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

2019-05-15 The purpose of art in a RPG product

Recently, Richard G wrote a few words about Silent Titans on Lasagna Social, saying that it looks really good, and also remarking on the “obscurity and circularity of reference” as it refers to Bastion of Electric Bastionland or Into the Odd, as it used to be known.

I left a comment saying that I had had the same thoughts: visuals (superficially), the references to other products, and I added: “Rolled my eyes a bit. 🙄”

Paolo Greco then asked me about the eye rolling and I felt that he deserved a longer answer. The comment turned out to be long enough that I ended feeling it deserved a page on this blog. So there you go. 😃

It wasn’t a strong feeling I had, just a heh and one eye roll, I guess. Somebody writes a game using the rules somebody else has published, go buy those, or the free older edition, and here’s and interview I did with them, and I read it, too, but at the same time I sighed a bit and couldn’t decide whether this was people patting each other on the back for a job well done inside the very product this well done job had produced, or an instance of one hand washing the other, as we say in German, so anyway, I asked myself: what is this? Is this an ad? Is this a cooperation? And I felt that as an editor, I would have cut it.

As for the art, I’ll start with me really liking the map in A Red and Pleasant Land, the squares, the inking, the slight abstraction away from fantasy realism we’ve seen in D&D, away from the retro line art we’ve seen in the OSR, something new, colourful, somehow familiar and yet unknowable. I guess I’m not an art critic and fear I lack the words and the sensitivities but anyway, Maze of the Blue Medusa went a bit further in this direction, more abstract, less something I can just show players and say “you see this!” and more something that conveys a mood, a mental confusion, a state that is perhaps a bit like the altered state of the mystical underworld, I guess the Medusa dungeon in Vornheim was a bit like that, and I didn’t even look too much at Frostbitten & Mutilated, so then I leafed through Silent Titans and felt that it was even more abstract, even less usable, less showable, nothing I could look at and interpret as a map, or an image of creature, or a location, but a jumble of things that provide an emotional reaction, a jumble of something, a weirdness, and I don’t deny that it fascinates me, but at the same time it’s also a bit in that line of art I like less, that I find less useful for a product that I don’t just buy to be entertained but to aid me at the table, to be useful in a very specific way.

So perhaps then the question is this: what is the purpose of art in an RPG product? It’s about pleasing the buyer, the reader. I have bought something beautiful, they say. And Silent Titans delivers. But I sort of dread the moment at the table. Is this something I can run at the table, as is? And I roll my eyes, a tiny little bit.

I guess this is all also in the context of an early post I had written on Diaspora: as I’m trying to read Silent Titans every now and then, I sigh as I realize that my brain is probably too puny and my imagination too boring for this. Feeling overwhelmed and unsure whether I can make use of this at the table.

What OSR PRG product have you actually used and liked using at the table? Even Stonehell has a lot of text for my taste. I guess Castle of the Mad Arch Mage worked pretty well for more than fifty sessions.

I should write more of my own instead of complaining, hah! 😅

I am reminded of advice I recently gave somebody, regarding adventures for newbies:

“I would write my own, I think.

That’s because I think finding a scenario and preparing a scenario takes time in which you could have written your own. And having written your own, you will never fear getting it wrong.

Even the One Page Dungeon Contest submissions are too much to read through. You’ll get lost wondering whether this or that fits your aesthetics better, whether this or that plays better with the table, whether this or that offers something your players might enjoy. And all this uncertainty about picking an adventure tells me that you already know all the things you need.

Trust me on this: writing up something simple for a night is quicker than finding and reading and prepping anything else and you’ll feel better at the table, too.”


Comments on 2019-05-15 The purpose of art in a RPG product

I love the art in RPG books but I hate that it’s only really seen by the DM. I buy more PDFs than physical books so art often gets in the way rather than enhances my experience while playing, but it’s nice for theme while reading away from the table.

Tom 2019-05-15 20:31 UTC

Yeah, I hate it when there are beautiful maps that nobody else ever sees.


  • entertainment for the reader
  • building enthusiasm before running the game (for the reader)
  • sometimes you can lift the book and turn it to the player so they can see it?
  • can work as a substitute to reading (just look for visual inspiration in a Paizo adventure path and ignore the sea of words)


  • Price
  • makes PDFs slow

And then there’s the drawbacks of having the wrong art:

  • confusing maps are confusing
  • watermarks make the text hard to read
  • busy maps make them hard to annotate (for the love of all that is good, bring back marginalia! we need more white space everywhere)

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-16 05:54 UTC

I just read a very interesting post about Silent Titans. A Literary Analysis of Silent Titans by Patrick Stuart on the Sheep and Sorcery blog.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-19 08:35 UTC

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2019-05-11 Brainstorming Hex Descriptions

I’m trying to find people to collaborate with on writing more stuff for Hex Describe. My creativity usually works via mutual inspiration.

Mutual inspiration happens when two or more people get together and enthusiasm builds up. This is the most elevating creative experience, as you not only “stand on the shoulders of giants”, but you can see your ideas grow and improve as you toss it back and forth amongst each other.

Factors that help you reach this state of mind as a group:

  • Brainstorming, being amongst friends, i.e. feeling less inhibition
  • Strong common interest or fascination
  • Similar ideas, you need some difference to inspire your partners
  • Similar language

I might have found such a place in this thread on Diaspora, where Ktrey has been offering ideas and tables and answering back with more specifics and Wikipedia links and all the goodness of the web. Thanks, Ktrey!


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2019-05-04 Working on Hex-Describe

Sometimes it’s hard to enumerate the things I added to Hex Describe. It’s small things, and one thing leads to another, and yet I am still impressed by what it does.

Just looking at the log of all the changes I recently made, going back to April 25:

  • contrib: more swamp creatures
  • contrib: fix green dragon typo
  • contrib: added black dragons to swamps
  • contrib: more elven name processing
  • contrib: link spellbooks to spellcasters project
  • contrib: added Ufala’s spellbook
  • contrib: added Xoralfona’s and Zorkan’s spellbook
  • contrib: added Ysabala’s spellbook
  • contrib: various fixes
  • contrib: various additions (balor, warlocks, etc.)
  • contrib: typos
  • contrib: more potions, move visuals to the front
  • contrib: feyrealms are Alfheim and Svartalfheim
  • elvish: using my own, simpler liaison rules
  • contrib: italics for demonic names
  • contrib: add manor houses to villages
  • contrib: fix typo
  • contrib: various
  • contrib: fix magic user treasure
  • contrib: more netherworld elf companions
  • contrib: add link to spellcasters project
  • contrib: four more spellbooks
  • hex-describe: fix Sindarin names
  • contrib: more changes
  • hex-describe: fix Sindarin names
  • contrib: more changes
  • contrib: undead in the mountains
  • hex-describe: smarter HR for text output
  • contrib: wording
  • contrib: netherworld elves
  • contrib: more spellbooks; spellbooks for elves
  • hex-describe: better Sindarin names
  • contrib: landmarks at rivers through settlements
  • contrib: landmarks at crossroads
  • hex-describe: doc wording
  • hex-describe: credited ktrey and Whidou
  • contrib: added another spellbook
  • contrib: more spellbooks
  • hex-describe: do not log missing keys in lists
  • hex-describe: use HR to separate long elements
  • hex-describe: link Matt Strom
  • hex-describe: how to generate spellbooks

It’s so much! And the thing is that it remains hard for me to convey what it does, the excitement I feel whenever I see the Text Mapper maps and start reading the map key generated by Hex Describe. Sure, I don’t read it for an hour, but it still excites me when I read it for a few minutes and it makes me want to run a campaign. And I keep wanting to add more stuff!

One thing I’d like to add more off are simple, map-less dungeons, a bit like those lairs for the elves of darkness that live up in the mountains.

Today I think I mostly added to swamps. Black dragons, sunken temples cursed by a gorgon, that kind of thing... 🙂


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2019-05-04 The First Adventure

@Kris recently asked: “Do you know of a good scenario for noobs?”

I would write my own, I think.

That’s because I think finding a scenario and preparing a scenario takes time in which you could have written your own. And having written your own, you will never fear getting it wrong.

Even the One Page Dungeon Contest submissions are too much to read through. You’ll get lost wondering whether this or that fits your aesthetics better, whether this or that plays better with the table, whether this or that offers something your players might enjoy. And all this uncertainty about picking an adventure tells me that you already know all the things you need.

Trust me on this: writing up something simple for a night is quicker than finding and reading and prepping anything else and you’ll feel better at the table, too.

Starting situation? — in front of a dungeon, looking for the crown of ice.

Immediate danger? — 10 orcs defending the entrance like the rebels defending their base on Hoth.

Immediate options? — run up there and attack, cast spells, parley, sneak up to them, lure them out, find back a entrance... plenty!

Who is their boss? — Kremulon the wight-servant, a necromancer.

Why is the boss bossing them around? — Kremulon has four wights at his command but needs the orcs to find 48 humans to sacrifice for Nergal.

Who is opposing this? — Gavina is the apprentice of Agrimach the necromancers and a loyal servant of Orcus; she wants to prevent the summoning of Nergal’s nightmare. In order to do this, she has led you here.

Complications? — five elves under the leadership of Nauthien will try to kill both servants of Nergal and Orcus and take the crown of ice.

Another complication? — rescuing the prisoner leads to three more rolls on the random encounter table on the way out.

Another entrance? — the three ice runners in the stables (another entrance) are dangerous because you smell like outsiders; the three stable orcs will raise an alarm if they spot you.

And another entrance? — the approach through the heat vents is dangerous because four yetis are using the exhaust to heat their cave, so you will have to sneak past them.

Secret escape? — a hidden tunnel leads into the ice caves with two frost trolls and eventually down to the coast, Skyrim style. So this too is an entrance of sorts, if you know how to climb ice walls and if you knew how to find it. Only Kremulon knows this.

Traps? — the ice bridge to the crown is slippery and defended by the four wights, if possible; if you are hit while on the bridge, save vs. death or fall into the icy water below. Once in there, save vs. death or die at the end of every round. A wight will follow you immediately and make sure to fight you in the cold water. If you avoid the fight, you can climb out in two rounds unless wearing metal armor.

Tricks? — finding the main hall? The corridors are confusing! Up or down? down is correct, up leads into the sleeping hall with more orcs. Towards food smell or away? away is correct, towards leads to kitchen with orcs and goblins at work.

Fights? — a random encounter table with 1d6 orcs, or 1d6 goblins carrying stuff for the orcs.

Entrance - Corridors   - Main Hall - Ice Bridge - Ice Crown
Orcs       Random Orcs   Kremulon    Wights       Nergal statue
              |          & Orcs                     |
              |              |                    Prisoners
           Stables          Ice caves
           Ice runners      Trolls
           & Orc handlers


This map is good enough. Decide on some more numbers: total orcs? 30; orcs with Kremulon? 6. That leaves 18 other orcs for encounters. Don’t forget to roll twice inside the corridors. Determine Gavina’s stats and spells. Same for Kremulon. Same for the elves and Nauthien.

All in all your prep for a first game shouldn’t be much more than that!


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2019-05-04 Referee Certification

Recently, JB wrote about Certifying Dungeon Masters and mentioned Jon Mattson’s article in Dragon #28 (August 1979), “Level Progression for Players and Dungeon Masters.” In the comments, Dennis Laffey quoted the requirements for being certified as a teacher for English as a second language, and I proposed to rewrite them as follows:

You need to run games for 120 hour or 40 sessions, whichever comes first; run a game for 6 hours or two sessions, observed and be given feedback by an experienced referee; observe an experienced referee for 6 hours or two sessions; submit 4 written blog posts about how you run games and a portfolio of your gaming products (adventures, house rules, spells, classes, magic items, etc).

All we need is an organization to formalize it!

  1. The organization would be organized as a Swiss association which ensures that it is run according to democratic principles.
  2. Its’ members can certify other referees (get two players to confirm the 120 hour or 40 sessions; observe games being run for 6 hours or two sessions and give feedback; let themselves be observed for 6 hours or two sessions; read blog posts and gaming products). The result is a report sent via electronic mail to the registrar.
  3. Newly certified referees are free to join as members.
  4. Membership is $1 per year. The web presence is paid for using these fees. The rest constitutes its cash reserve. The association’s liability is strictly limited to its cash reserve.
  5. The management roles we have: president, cashier, webmaster, registrar. There are yearly elections.
  6. In case of complaints, the president shall designate three members to investigate. The three possible outcomes are: no action, revocation of certification, or expulsion.
  7. If the three investigators reach an unanimous decision to revoke certification, a report to that effect is sent via electronic mail to the registrar. The revocation is noted by the registrar and thus takes effect. The decertification does not strip one of membership and voting rights.
  8. If the three investigators reach an unanimous decision to revoke membership, a report to that effect is sent via electronic mail to the registrar. The revocation is noted by the registrar and thus takes effect. This does strip one of membership and voting rights.
  9. The association’s president may reinstate former members.

Something like that? Only half-serious, of course. I don’t even know if this is an actual problem because I haven’t run into situations where this would have helped. When I had referees I didn’t like, they were either new to running games (in which case knowing that they lacked certification wouldn’t have helped) or they apparently had been running games for a long time but I didn’t like their style (in which case they would have gotten the certification anyway). Basically the certification shows that a referee has some experience, it doesn’t show that the referee is good. And really, how would you do that? Just like teachers: you know that they have taught the necessary hours, but you don’t know whether they were any good. That seems to be the limitation of all such things. The rest will have to be trust built on social media and word of mouth, as has always been the case. Which makes me wonder: why are we doing this again?

I guess I just like the social challenge of how to set up and run such an organization.


Comments on 2019-05-04 Referee Certification

Is this all a parody that I am not getting?

I always try to be diplomatic and polite, and respect other people’s oppinion, even when I disagree with it.

But this GM rating thing feels like it’s the dumbest thing related to RPGs I’ve ever heard.

What’s the point of that?! So players can say “I really would like to play in a game, and I like you as a person, but your record says that you don’t have tallied up a sufficient number of hours running games to gain the previlege of me playing with you”?

Yora 2019-05-04 11:56 UTC

It’s a half parody, as far as I am concerned. I think it’s preposterous, but at the same time, when I sign up for games at a convention there are four or five people dedicating four hours of their life to a game and wouldn’t you like to know that the GM is good before doing that? Like looking at the ratings on all the websites of the service industry from hotels to drivers, restaurants to rooms, or labels on food, don’t you want to know a little something? I know I do. Perhaps it’s the Zeitgeist. And that makes it all the more poignant for me. Plus there is the culture shift, for me: away from friends I know from school towards strangers that meet on the Internet before playing together, not knowing anything about each other, and not planning on being friends beyond the confines of the game. That too I find interesting.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-04 12:28 UTC

It’s one of those ideas that may sound good on paper (I mean, were I to spend a lot of money to travel to cons and such, I’d certainly choose GMs who has a good track record), but would ultimately cause more harm than good (imagine how hard it would be to get into GMing at cons as a newcomer).

Still, I had a good chuckle, and isn’t that the point of talking about elfgames? 😝

Ynas Midgard 2019-05-07 08:52 UTC

Yes! I laughed when I read that table of level titles, too.

  1. Initiate
  2. Apprentice
  3. Expert
  4. Overseer
  5. Supervisor
  6. Moderator
  7. Mediator
  8. Arbitrator
  9. Referee
  10. Referee, 1st Class
  11. Judge
  12. Dungeonmaster

Specially as I think about people using “referee” (like me) or “judge” (like Anne), or ... Dungeonmaster – which is obviously the bestest title. 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-07 09:26 UTC

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2019-04-28 RPG Blog Highlights

Here’s my continuation of blog findings, a blog post I made nearly a month ago listing cool blog posts I had seen. A true “web log” like in the old days before social media, haha. I’ve been posting links to other blogs on Mastodon every now and then, trying to highlight what I felt was interesting stuff I had seen, so all I do is go through my own feed and copy and paste and format and link the stuff again. Feel free to follow me on Mastodon: @kensanata.

Noisms write about using old maps: «a great way to create the bare bones for a small scale D&D campaign … This is a map of the area around Eals, a tiny hamlet close to the Northumberland/Cumbria border in probably the least-developed part of England. … The map is an old Ordnance Survey one from approximately 1900, at a scale of about 1 inch to a mile» – Monsters and Manuals: Real Life Maps, Hexcrawling, and Rustic Fantasy Names

JB writes about Karameikos and GAZ1 and I’m listening to the British History Podcast episodes about The Saxon invasion (if there ever was one), and thinking about The Great Pendragon Campaign… «Let’s talk a bit about conquered people, shall we? Historically, folks are pretty averse to being conquered and ruled by a foreign power, especially when there’s any perceived social injustice like…» – B/X BLACKRAZOR: A is for Archduke Stefan III, When Neighbors Attack: A Story of Kings

Reading about a Nethack win reminds me of my Nethack failures... I think I never got past level 8 or 9? I can barely remember. – Library of Attnam: My NetHack Anniversary

«Don’t try to manage real-life social dynamics using rules and systems. It doesn’t work. And it will probably cause some harm.» – Zedeck Siew's Writing Hours

This is one for programmers: @aparrish said “I still think this is the most useful python library I’ve ever made and I’m kind of sad it hasn’t found its audience (probably because I need to make more compelling examples).” and adds that “it’s a simplified wrapper for approximate nearest neighbor lookups that obviates the need to use or even think about e.g. annoy or scipy.kdtree” which makes me think this is something people interested in generating maps and the like might need? I don’t know but I want to learn. – GitHub - aparrish/simpleneighbors: A clean and easy interface for performing nearest-neighbor lookups

@gunnar recommends Medieval Fantasy City Generator by watabou which I already knew but it’s still cool so there you go.

I wonder whether Sleeping Titans is something that would ever see play at my table. «Silent Titans includes an overland area isolated by mysterious phenomena, a central town, a scattering of settlements and five unique non-Euclidian dungeons.» – False Machine: Silent Titans Pre-Sales are Live (early morning edition)

Listening to an episode on corridors of Thinking Allowed and hearing that corridors were brought to England in the 17th century. That explains the room-after-room or one-room-per-floor design of older buildings! And it tells me most D&D maps are totally anachronistic. But I guess we knew that already? I hadn’t thought of corridors as an invention, in any case. I think it’s a problem with structural analysis: the earth does not support big halls, so you build a small tunnel and dig another hall. That’s how I remember the catacombs I’ve seen. Room after room after room, with small corridors connecting them, but not long corridors with many openings left and right.

I’m listening to episode 289 of the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast about angels and I can’t stop thinking about the AD&D Monster Manual 2 where I learned about all these things.

Write monsters based on illustrations by Harry Clarke and let’s make another monster manual! I liked this project: Cavegirl's Game Stuff: Community Project - The Harry Clarke Bestiary

“I wrote 50 levelless spells for my OSR homebrew! Lots are rewrites, but some are all-new - check out Spellify, or my Summon rules!” – A Blasted, Cratered Land: Mimics & Miscreants Spell List

Currently reading the German Wikipedia page about the league. Not surprisingly the article is much longer than the English equivalent.

Dungeons the Dragoning 40,000 7th Edition was very cool! Thus: «lessons I’ve learned over a decade of GMing everything from D&D 4e to Eclipse Phase to Dungeons the Dragoning 40,000 7th Edition to a half-dozen of my own homebrews.» – A Blasted, Cratered Land: Lexi's Big Bag of GM Tips

Listening to the Blogs on Tape podcast – the best of podcasting and OSR blogs. Thanks for choosing and reading them all, @linkskywalker and collaborators!

Lots of lists of magic items on this blog: tengoldpiecegems

@Halfjack writing about about transliteration in fantasy alphabets, using Tengwar as an example: if you write “l a u g h” using Tengwar, I’m going to cry because I learned English the hard way and the English spelling will surely make all elves cry. And if Fëanor can cry then so can I. And you.

I’m enjoying the podcast Roguelike Radio. Now I want to read Procedural Generation in Game Design because of Roguelike Radio: episode 137 about the book. But I know I no longer read long books. I just think I want to read them.

Listening to the episode on MUDs makes me want to play in MUSHed and MUDs again. But I tried it last year and it didn’t last... Maybe I should create my own single person world. The episode and the discussion about the future of MUDs makes me think that Minecraft/Minetest is one of the futures: there is survival mode oft MUD players and creative mode for MUSH players. Multiplayer. Building.

The Gundobad blog is simply right up my alley! This time, writing about Rome and the barbarians: Of Swords & Sojourners: Barbarians Within the Gates of Empire. (Previously: writing about the Late Bronze Age collapse.)

Awesome series by Ben L.: “This is the first in a series of posts that try to say something about the theory of the OSR style of play … Recently I have been reading a lot of story games … For me this process has been tremendously clarifying. I think what they do is really neat, and seeing how it’s different from what we do helps me to understand why we do some of things we do.” – Mazirian's Garden: Pleasures of the OSR: Secrecy and Discovery

And later: «both OSR and story gamers regularly say that they value “emergent stories”. The idea is that the stories are not pre-written, rather they emerge from play. So it seems like we’re on the same page. But I’m convinced that this is, in large part, an illusion.» – Mazirian's Garden: Pleasures of the OSR: Emergent Story and Open Worlds

“If you need an ultra powerful, semi-mortal magic user to be the villain of a campaign, to rule a city in the middle of an arid waste, to be the eccentric host hosting an auction in some desolate region where only the wealthiest and most influential people in the world or for any other reason, use the tables below.” – Remixes and Revelations: Random Sorcerer-King Generator

If you’re interested in generated maps, generated histories, generated wars, generated seaways, generating place names and so much more, I have a blog recommendation for you: for h in hexes.

“So, if you are a map maker, or know of one that you would want included in this, then drop a comment below and I will update the post with each new map-maker … vaguely somewhat close to the OSR in a general sense” – False Machine: Who Makes Maps?

Anne writes about total darkness. I’d handle it like Skerples in the comments? “If you run out of hit points, or run out of time to play the game while your character is still in the dungeon, or you run out of light, your life is forfeit, and you have given up your right to remain alive. … If you can’t narrate, then don’t. Use a different resolution mechanic - rolling dice on a special table - and then later, start narrating again at a point where you’re able to do so.” – DIY & Dragons: Your Life is Forfeit

“A situation where the players treat resources as important and plan ahead to have a sufficient supply is almost indistinguishable from a situation where the players and the judge all ignore resource management completely.” – DIY & Dragons: Mechanics for Resource Management - part 2, Defining our Terms

This blog post from The Scones Alone is about an alternate encumbrance system and discussed by Anne in one of her blog posts. So many good thoughts: A Simple Resource Management System for Into the Odd

I’m falling into the rabbit hole of Anne’s posts on resource management... See my post on Encumbrance.

How to show the world is old (and other stuff about world building): “But what can be done is to show practically how civilizations come and go, but nature always persists the entire time. While barely anything is known about the most recently destroyed cities, other than stories of how they were destroyed by one of the still existing cities, and nothing about the cities that came before them, there are still plenty of ruins left behind by the Ancient Builders.” – The Truths of the World – Spriggan's Den

Same blog: I love those word counts! “In the Sword & Sorcery genre, stories tend to be much shorter, instead you simply get more of them. As references, here are the works of some of the great Sword & Sorcery writers and their lengths.” – Keeping it brief: Word Counts in Sword & Sorcery – Spriggan's Den

Another excellent series, this time by Yami Bakura. All of them are super long and have stats and background for a lot of elemental themed creatures.

“Whenever you attempt to light a fire, somewhere above in one of the golden office complexes of the Sun, a clerk working in the Burning Bureaucracy is evaluating your request, based on the wind, moisture, and numerous other factors. Then, if they approve your request, the fire starts. The clerk must then notarize the paperwork and send it off to be properly tabulated.“ – Remixes and Revelations: OSR: The Elemental Court of Fire

“The Tunnel Tyrants are a class of civil servant responsible for maintaining the Veins of the Earth, as well as all other manmade tunnels and mines. Their additional duties include monitoring the amount of minerals in each area, controlling nitrogen fixation, and several other duties. If a sinkhole is needed, it must run through them. However, they are a class of civil servants also known for being corrupt, lazy or just incompetent.“ – Remixes and Revelations: OSR: The Elemental Court of Earth

Frog princess, river dragons, ice queens and more: “There are currently Five claimants to the Throne of the Deep, all claiming to be the best one to rule the Court of Water. Until such a time as someone will mount the Throne of the Deep and be acknowledged by the majority of Water Elementals as the true master of the waves, the Water Civil War will continue and the Court will remain fractured.” – Remixes and Revelations: OSR: The Elemental Courts of Water


And as always, if you don’t see enough stuff here to make you go check out the blogs, there’s always the inimitable Froth: THOUGHT EATER: humpday blog-o-rama.


Comments on 2019-04-28 RPG Blog Highlights

Great stuff. Thank you kindly for the mention.

Froth 2019-04-29 12:45 UTC

Ynas Midgard’s RPG Blog has Excellence from the Blogosphere (March-April). Very cool! ❤

– Alex Schroeder 2019-05-10 20:36 UTC

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2019-04-27 RPG feed for this blog

Since I write about many different topics, somebody who’s only interested in a subset of my blog and would like to add a feed to that subset to their blogroll... Here’s how to do it for Blogger, for example.

  1. log in
  2. go to Layout
  3. on the sidebar-right-1, click Add a Gadget
  4. pick Blog List
  5. you should now be on the Configure Blog List form
  6. click Add a blog to your list
  7. provide the URL https://alexschroeder.ch/wiki/feed/RPG
  8. the confirmation should say that the blog’s name is “Alex Schroeder: RPG”
  9. click Save

This is different from providing https://alexschroeder.ch/wiki/RPG (without feed in there) – if you do that, then the confirmation says “Alex Schroeder: Diary” and you’ll see all my blog posts, not just the ones tagged RPG. That’s because every blog page lists all the feeds, including the main feed (”Diary”) and Blogger isn’t smart enough to know that if you’re providing the link to a page called “RPG” that you’re most likely interested in a feed whose name also ends in “RPG”. I mean, it’s obvious to humans, but it isn’t as obvious to computers. Oh well.

This is what it should look like:

My blog in your sidebar

In the example above, the problem is now that clicking on “Alex Schroeder: RPG” you are sent to the feed instead of the page. But if you click on “Encumbrance” you are taken to the correct blog post.

Hm. 🤔

I tried rearranging the feeds in my pages, so when looking at the RPG page the RPG does come first, but to no avail. The Blogger widget still prefers the main (”Diary”) feed over the “RPG” feed.

I also tried providing a link to an HTML alternative, given the feed URL, but that didn’t work out either.


Perhaps I really do need to move from RSS to Atom for this to work?


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2019-04-26 Encumbrance

At first, I calculated the encumbrance of all the items my characters had. It took a long time and I didn’t really enjoy it. I enjoyed it even less once I discovered that practically nobody else at the table was doing it.

Then I discovered Delta’s system using stones and tried to convince myself and others to give it a try. But it didn’t work. It was the same useless exercise.

Then I tried to use Moldvay’s system: movement rate depends on armour class and when carrying a lot of treasure it is further reduced.

Armour MR
unarmoured 12
leather 9
metal 6
metal + treasure 3

Finally it was easy enough for me to enforce it as a referee. I no longer depended on players doing anything. And then I realized that it had practically no effect. No matter how slow people where, they would enter or leave one room per turn, resulting in a wandering monster check. In combat, I didn’t use a battle map so being slow didn’t limit who you could attack. So actually, being slow was no penalty. I also never penalized halflings and dwarves for having short legs.

So finally I settled on my rule of cool: “When in doubt, the referee can ask a player to start reading their character’s inventory out loud. As soon as people groan or laugh, that’s enough. Drop some stuff!”

And then I ended up not even using that.

Anyway, there is a much longer discussion by Anne on her blog, spread over many blog posts:

  1. Mechanics for Resource Management - part 1, The Easy Way: “So the first option for resource management in D&D is, don’t.”
  2. Mechanics for Resource Management - part 2, Defining our Terms
  3. Two Good Links on Resource Management, linking to State of the art and A Simple Resource Management System for Into the Odd
  4. Mechanics for Resource Management - part 3, Types of Resources
  5. Your Life is Forfeit, about running out of light


Comments on 2019-04-26 Encumbrance

Sure, theatre of the mind negates movement rates (and usually anyone with a 6” move can cross a dungeon room anyway) but they’ll make a difference if your game involves chases, either way.

RogerGS 2019-04-26 23:37 UTC

I use slot based encumbrance, where you get a number of slots equal to your Constitution. Almost everything takes a slot, except for big armor and weapons, which can take up more. It’s so dead simple my 5th grade players use it without my saying a thing. The great thing about encumbrance rules is that it makes what you carry meaningful, and adds interesting choices when you want to pick things up you don’t have room for.

Ben Milton 2019-04-27 00:29 UTC

Roger, I’m not sure. Is this how you run chases? I never did. It would mean that people in plate armour can practically only flee from slimes and the like, wouldn’t it? Or do you use the rules from LL/BX?

Labyrinth Lord has a Wilderness Retreat Table on page 52 gives the probabilities for escaping.

Fleeing Group Size Base Chasing Groups Size up to 25% 26%-75% 76%+
Up to 4 50% 0 +20% +40%
5–12 35% 0 +15% +25%
13–24 25% 0 +10% +25%
25+ 10% 0 +15% +25%

Thus, the fewer you are (or splitting up) increases your chances of escaping. Similarly for monsters: splitting up increases their chances of catching up.

It also says: “If the part giving chase has double the movement of the fleeing side, they might receive a bonus of 20–25% to catch the fleeing party.”

Basic D&D has rules for evasion on page B24 which take movement rate into account. Basically if the party is faster, they can always evade. If they are slower, an (unmodified) reaction roll is rolled for monsters to determine whether they pursue.

Expert D&D, on the other hand, has a similar table as Labyrinth Lord, which allows you to cross-reference party size (columns) and number of creatures encountered (rows):

1–4 5–12 ­13–24 25+ Chance
1–10 10%
1–6 11–30 25%
1–3 7–16 31+ 35%
1 4–8 17+ 50%
2–3 9+ 70%
4+ 90%

It also says “The DM may adjust evasion chances for relative speed, terrain, and other factors as desired … If one group can move at least twice as fast as the other, the faster group may increase (or decrease) the chances of evasion by 25% in its favor.”

Movement rate differences don’t seem to be very important but relative group size is important has always been my takeaway.

When I wrote my own chase rule I was very enthusiastic about it. But I think in all these years I have used it maybe once or twice. It wasn’t worth it.

So in the end, I decided for myself that a car chase might be interesting in a movie, or Aragorn, Legloas and Gimli chasing orcs was at least somewhat interesting in the books and the movies (although I did wonder about the movement rates of dwarves), it doesn’t excite me at the table. It never happens.

And that’s why I concluded that movement rates also doesn’t matter.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-27 12:48 UTC

Ben, I want to like it. Perhaps it would work well at the table with a character sheet that comes with the right amount of slots right there for people to see and fill in.

I think the reason I fear proposing it is that I have hated carrying limits in Oblivion and Skyrim... 😀

But perhaps I simply have to try it one day. And I’ll have to see whether it results in a more interesting game than the “rule of cool”.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-27 12:51 UTC

An intriguing idea for encumbrance using slots: the empty slots are your initiative. I do group initiative so perhaps this is not for me, but it’s intriguing. Combat: initiative in your inventory, by Davide Pignedoli].

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-28 05:25 UTC

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2019-04-26 Adding Spellbooks to Hex Describe

I’ve found a way to combine Hex Describe with my Spellcasters project: the spellcasters in the descriptions now pick from the spellbooks of the “famous” spellcasters in my big list. I’m still amazed I was able to pack it all into random tables but it actually works. Here’s an example:

Image 1


Comments on 2019-04-26 Adding Spellbooks to Hex Describe

If anybody feels the urge to add to the mini-setting generator I’ve been working on for a while now, I’d be happy to answer questions, ask for specific input if that’s what you’d like (we could try and turn it into “Gygaxian democracy” events?), or whatever. These last few days I’ve been writing stuff for a hidden fortress of elves (drow, if you want) up in the mountains.


To illustrate how this would work, let me give you some examples.

The companions of the netherworld elves subtable basically has only two entries:

  1. 1d8 bugbears
  2. 3d6 myconids

We could add some more.

The gate of the netherworld elves subtable basically has only four entries:

  1. a chasm guarded by 2d4 giant spiders
  2. a throne room of a spectre
  3. a former dwarven forge protected by giant spiders, a fire giant, and 2d8 duergar
  4. a guardian of an evil power (a spirit naga for Set, 1d8 wights for Orcus, a demon boar for Hel, a gorgon for Nergal, a vulture demon for Pazuzu)

We could add some more.

Or we could add a one or two sentence vignette? Anyway, that’s usually how I work. Once I have the basic structure for a thing, I just keep adding to the “branches” until I can click on those links and it’s no longer boring, doesn’t repeat too often, and so on. And of course I get to build on all the other things that have already been added, magic items, evil powers, monster stats, and so on.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-27 12:23 UTC

I love how this is practically a small dungeon, generated automatically, with no map required!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-27 21:28 UTC

I think it would be nice if somebody looked at the current Hex Describe output and went “there’s quite a lot of repeating or boring description here and here” (with examples perhaps) and then some suggestions like “I think we need more stuff in swamps, how about we add more lizard folk? Or grave barrows?” And then we’d start brainstorming monsters and situations and description and I’d put it all into the right format and off we go. Something like that?

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-28 09:42 UTC

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2019-04-25 Remembering Google Plus

People are thinking about G+ and its demise and how they feel about it. It all started with Patrick Stuart asking the question, How Do You Feel About G+ Being Gone? His own answer: I don't miss it. Alex Chalk wrote Do I Miss Google Plus? The Answer May Surprise You.

As for myself, I also don’t miss it. I used to read a lot of G+. These days I’m happy that I don’t “have” to read so much. I was reading too much. I noticed my attention span shrinking. Did I read, did I skim, or did I just scroll? I was getting impatient with longer blog posts. I don’t have the time, I’d tell myself.

Late 2017 or early 2018 I decided to leave Google+. Politics was getting me down. Like Patrick, I felt the collective madness of the USA spreading, and it wasn’t good. I needed to get away from that. But there were also smaller things. I hated link spam: people posting a link to their blog posts to every Community vaguely related. As a moderator for one of these communities, I’d see some of these posts in the moderation queue and I’d just delete them all. If I checked the profiles of the people that were posting these on-topic but still spam-to-me posts to multiple communities, I just felt disappointed.

Perhaps I was reading it as a sign of the crass capitalism that has been eating our community. People have Patreons instead of blogs. They sell stuff on Drive Thru RPG instead of posting it on their blog, they have effectively joined the spammers of our world, posting in ten communities at little inconvenience to them but at the cost of hundreds of people having to see the repeating messages and tuning out. Everybody hustling all the time, competing for my attention, it just put me off. Perhaps it put me off most of all because it was a constant reminder of where our society is going.

I did not feel joy.

In short, I needed a change.

And then there’s also the ethical component of our social media being provided by one of the data krakens of our time. In the age of Snowden, that seemed like the wrong thing to do. The USA is snooping on the rest of world (and shamefully, the secret services of the rest of the world would love nothing more than do the same thing if only they could), using and abusing our data the big companies that rule the main streets of the Internet have collected and stored about us – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple – and here I am using a non-free client on my phone, feeding the machine that bites me.

I felt dirty.

And so I moved. I made the conscious decision to move, to drop the network of over 2000 followers on Google+ and try and rebuild elsewhere. I had done it before. I had a Twitter account and dropped it. I had a Facebook account and dropped it. I knew I could always rebuild. It would probably be smaller, but I already knew that I wasn’t enjoying what I had, so what was there to lose except for numbers?

I joined Mastodon because the decentralised nature promised decentralised moderation. If you don’t like your local moderators, you can move elsewhere. That was better than what Twitter offered. It was new. It was queer. It was different.

That’s also why I didn’t follow anybody to MeWe. I didn’t want to join another silo. If a Mastodon instance goes down, I can import the list of people I’m following elsewhere and resume where I left off. And Mastodon is free software. It has an API that’s documented. I was able to write tools for it: a Bitlbee plugin, a Mastodon archiver, and other small tools here and there. Not everybody needs to be able to write tools for my social media. But nobody was able to do it for Google+. Nobody is doing it for MeWe. And I’m no longer interested in this world.

I decided to give Diaspora a try, too. For the moment, however, Mastodon is simply my happy place. I understand the user interface. I use an old app and it works.

So, do I miss G+? I loved the blogs of the OSR back when everything was new to me. I remember Sham and Michael and James and Brendan and Ramanan and P and JB and Jeff and Delta and Philotomy and others writing about this and that and the other and it was all new to me and I loved it and I wrote about it, too. This conversation then moved to Google+ and I followed. But after some time I also felt that I had learned what I had needed to learn, I was happy playing my new found game, I felt I had said all that I had to say.

And it passed away. G+ disappeared, the ship sank, the written record lost, gobbled up, inaccessible to future historians unless you were lucky enough to be gobbled up by the Internet Archive and unless we are all lucky enough for the Archive to survive into the far future. Indeed, another darkness spell has been cast.

What are we to do?

Sit, play, write, laugh, share, talk.

Just don’t join the silos. The blogosphere needs you.

The blogs still have a lot to learn. How to connect better. How to make sharing easier. How to make linking easier. I mean, it’s easy to make a link, but ideally we’d like to be notified if somebody else joins the conversation and links to us. We’d like to get notified if somebody likes what we write or comments on it elsewhere. And all these things and more were done for us by social media and we need to teach our blogs how to do it. Until we do, and until they all do, there’s nothing but doing it ourselves. Link, and share, and recommend, send mails, leave comments.

The open web and the blogs are our best bet, for now.

I don’t miss Google+. Not one bit.


Comments on 2019-04-25 Remembering Google Plus

Nice post, I feel about the same. Not for G+ as I did not use this network much, but I totally agree for other “silos” 😀 On Mastodon, my “community circle” is much smaller, but much much more helpful and more interactive.

Peter Kotrčka 2019-04-26 05:30 UTC

I didn’t use Google+ too much after the “Nymwars”, but it was nice to leave it behind. What I did use of it was problematic at best, and detrimental at worst for me. Especially the level of political talk. I just wish Mastodon hadn’t fallen down the same rabbit hole of politics among much of my circles.

– TeraDyne Ezeri 2019-04-26 16:12 UTC

Luckily I’ve been avoiding the kind of political talk that gets me down.

As for the number of people I am conversing with on Mastodon, I think that sadly my RPG circle is still very, very small. There is practically no conversation outside three or four people. And in the long term I think it’s too small, to be honest. My non-RPG account fares better, and right now I feel my Mastodon enthusiasm waning a bit. We’ll see how it goes. I’m starting to warm up to blogging again!

Ah, and enjoy Vienna, Peter! I’m planning on visiting family in Vienna for a few days in July. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2019-04-26 20:28 UTC

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