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

2019-01-16 In Character Knowledge

Been listening to @Judd’s podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons. He talks about character knowledge. Here’s how I handle it:

  • If you know it, your character knows it, if you want to. That takes care of everyday knowledge about monsters (orcs, trolls).
  • If I remember that your characters have heard it before in this campaign, and you seem to have forgotten even though you’re trying to remember, I’ll provide a hint (”I think some told you about this before, she had a minotaur companion...”) and if you then find it in your notes or the campaign wiki, you know it.
  • If everybody knows it in the setting, you know it.
  • If it belongs to your character’s background, you know it. If you haven’t picked a background, tell us about it and write it down, and then you know it. Every retainer can also have a background, so working together from diverse backgrounds you might cover quite a bit.
  • If you ask non-player characters, they’ll provide unreliable information that depends on their in-game situation. Sages and the like will often know more than peasants, obviously.


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2019-01-14 Episode 14

Today I used the Remove Clicks and the Compressor plugins in Audacity with the default values to attempt and improve the sound quality. And I edit the file, once again, shortening pauses and removing some uuuhms.

The topic of the day is combat: surprise, initiative, d30 rule, not using variable weapon damage, shields shall be splintered, formations, protection, targeting, retreating, fleeing. And as soon as I stopped talking I remembered a thing or two I would have wanted to add. Oh well!


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Comments on 2019-01-14 Episode 14

Things I wanted to mention:

  • covering the retreat is simply some people retreating and others staying behind, blocking the passage
  • in the open field, disengaging is harder: in the first round some people retreat and others stay behind; if the opposition then moves around the people that stayed behind in order to stay in melee with the ones retreating, then it didn’t work: the people retreating might have to resort to fleeing (and thuse to a parting shot)

I really should double check the weapons and their space requirements. See 2018-12-25 Episode 07.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-15 09:29 UTC

danke fuer die podcasts! habe (noch) nicht alle gehoert, die bisherigen haben mir sehr gefallen. inhaltlich und auch “sprachlich”. gut finde ich immer eigene erlebnisse, wie “bei dem und dem spiel haben wir das erlebt, ich so gehandelt.”

– Chris 2019-01-15 14:45 UTC

Heh. Und Intro Jingles mit Pocket Operators selber gemacht. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-15 16:20 UTC

ja, super, PO!

– Chris 2019-01-15 16:23 UTC

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2019-01-11 Episode 13

Skills: class abilities, the roll to open doors and bend bars, the lucky die of fate, and thieves’ skills, they can all be mapped to a 1d6 roll.


page 11, bottom


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2019-01-11 Episode 12

Retainers: make sure you agree on how many characters you all bring along. As always, just use pregens. When to make the loyalty checks.


page 11, top


Comments on 2019-01-11 Episode 12

I started reworking it and got some super helpful suggestions on GitHub and now the entire section about retainers looks very different! Thanks, Björn.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-13 14:17 UTC

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2019-01-05 Episode 11

Basic terms, hopefully in the right order for a newbie to read: I want to make sure they understand the difference between player and player character because that can help defuse difficult situations at the table; experience points, level, hit points, saving throw, the usual stuff, nothing new; circle is what I’m trying to use instead of spell level! We use the word “level” for dungeon level, character level, and spell level. This is my attempt to talk about “spells from the first circle” instead of “first level spells.” Do you think this is going to work? I have my doubts but I’m not yet ready to give up. And finally, the two most important terms: reaction roll and morale check. Important stuff if you don’t want your game to be about combat all the time.

I didn’t talk too much about it. There’s still time to talk about it when we talk about combat rules. But combat is just one of the ways to enforce consequences. For me, it is not the core experience at the table.


  • 2010-01-25 One Page Notes: “I looked at old school dungeons, and started to like what I saw: a lot less text! At first I thought these dungeons were boring hack-n-slay expeditions, but I started to realize that this doesn’t have to be true. The most important points were the monster reaction table where you roll 2d6 and add a Charisma modifier, and morale checks where you roll 2d6 at appropriate times to see whether the enemies retreat or flee. That changes many combat situation into social situations!” I’m starting to realize the importance of reaction rolls and morale checks.
  • 2011-08-10 Darkness Beneath: “A few sessions ago, however, the party decided to investigate some more and found an entrance to the warrens. There, they started talking and got a superb reaction roll. In the end, one of the characters did some cave paintings for the troglodytes. Then they heard about the king’s treasure and wanted to see him. They started realizing how big the dungeon was with pits, unsafe areas, guards, patrols, lizards, toad knights, and more. They spoke with the king and promised to take care of the crab-men.” I love these surprises!
  • 2014-08-21 No Dice: adding more entries to the reaction table, and realizing that in the end, the reaction roll is the one thing you will keep rolling up into high level play
  • Riffing on 2d6: Reaction Rolls by Peter Fröhlich compares the 2d6 roll to other ways of doing it
  • Why B/X Is My Favorite #10: The Reaction Roll subsytem and Why B/X Is My Favorite #16: The BEST morale system EVER!, both by P Armstrong, with with the best blog post series on B/X!
  • 2012-03-20 Not Smart Enough: reaction role and morale checks help me be an impartial referee
  • 2016-12-22 Mass Combat, Again: morale is important for mass combat, too
  • 2017-04-27 Rulings: we talk about many things, including appropriate moments to check morale
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rule set with links to the PDF files

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2019-01-04 Treasure on the Map

I’ve added the new treasure types to Hex Describe. This is basically my test for the real world. When I read the generated mini-campaign setting, do I like what I see? Boring magic items? Stupid lairs? Details I should add? And then I just keep working on the thing that bothers me.

More monster stats and treasure types from my Referee Guide, magic items, treasure maps... and I still want to add so much!

Wouldn’t it be cool to add maps from my Megadungeon Generator? Maybe add styles? Eleven towers, dwarves forges, abandoned mines... and stock them! Hah, it would never end. But perhaps ideas which the referee then expands upon. Just enough to kick myself out of the same old head space. Otherwise all my towers look the same, all my characters behave the same...

Things I’d like to improve:

  • magic users should get appropriate magic weapons and armour; right now they don’t and I don’t know whether I like it (they gift it to a retainer for services promised, obviously) or not (there should be two different selections for magic users and others)
  • I’d love to see the spell books for the magic users and elves, but before doing that, perhaps I should simply finish the Book of Spellcasters I’ve been working on

Tags: Hex Describe

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2019-01-04 Episode 10

Gods, demon lords, and alignment. Why do we keep the priests of demon lords around? They must useful to somebody! I like the ambiguity of the old gods. They are not all good or all evil. And I like the old threefold alignment: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos. I think alignment languages and thieves cant are just signs and the use of particular words in particular ways. If you say something and I answer “Amen!” then I’m not just saying “Yes!” I’m also saying that I’m a Christian. That’s how I understand them.

But most of all, I just love the statements of the priests of Chaos and the priests of Law. I still do.


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2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels

I just saw Michael Julius’ blog post, DnD this year, 2019.

Alex Schroeder’s Halberds & Helmets is a big influence. I enjoy his iterative approach and simple, classic game. Focus on light and casual. I want something folded up, pretty, and played by the end of the year.

– Michael Julius

It made me smile! :)

He links to Jeff Rients’ blog post from 2009, On System.

Brothers and sisters, it is time that we stop arguing about the stupid footprints. My advice to anyone currently fretting over which edition or retro-clone or whatever they should use is to just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one. No matter which one you pick D&D isn’t there. It’s your job to take that text and turn it into D&D. Interpret, interpolate, edit, house-rule, mangle, spindle, mutilate. Run that text into the ground. Import crap from other editions, other games. Break it and remake it in your own image. Only once you have your own version of D&D up and running does D&D in any way exist. The texts are mere echoes, shadows of someone else’s D&D. Use them to bootstrap your own D&D into existence. That’s all they’re good for.

– Jeff Rients

Very true. I recommend reading Eero Tuovinen’s thread, Our OSR D&D sandbox campaign. That is where I heard of this argument for the first time.

The way I see it, D&D resolution system properly works via precedent rulings and legislatory action. The given campaign has a bunch of rules and mechanical ways to resolve different situations, and the GM is the guy most responsible for tracking these. When a situation comes up in play the GM is mandated to resolve it consistently, using a rule that was used for the same purpose beforehand. If he encounters a new situation that the rules do not cover adequately, he needs to make a ruling that then becomes a new precedent for the future. If he encounters a situation for which there already is a rule, but it’s a stupid rule, then he needs to take it to the table, have the players affirm a change in the rules, and then continue using the new rule. It’s very similar to how common law legal systems operate.

– Eero Tuovinen

This thread is full of gold!

My viewpoint on this ultimately indicates that most of D&D writing is necessarily of secondary concern, as most of that writing focuses on mechanical resolution concepts. This means that these writers, starting with Gygax, have failed to actually address the first-order concerns that gamers need to be able to overcome to play the game successfully: instead of telling us how he set up his sandbox campaign and how his group negotiated challenges, Gygax tells us about the outcome of this process of play. He tells us that after playing the game their group had established these sorts of character classes, and this is how their thieves picked pockets, and this is how shields worked vs. polearms. However, he never tells us the bit that I’m absolutely convinced about today after playing the game myself, that the GM’s referee position cannot work without a clear system of precedent. He also doesn’t tell us how these rulings need to be rooted in the fictional concerns of the group, and how there are no absolutely right or wrong choices for how to handle the individual resolution details. What we get instead is this myth where a long playtest has stabilized a genius rules system, and you’re not really playing AD&D if you don’t follow every brainfart rules subsystem written down by Gygax. I think that history has amply shown that the way D&D uses rules means that these rules are necessarily tied into a time and a place, into specific nuances of how people play and what they care about their fiction.

– Eero Tuovinen

I mean, come on! This is great.

I think I had already read all of this when I wrote about rulings back in 2017. I’m sure Eero’s ideas have influenced me a lot. :)

As befits this viewpoint our D&D campaign doesn’t really use any single version of the rules. Rather, I started with a simple framework of non-denominational D&D and then created the specific resolution rules details utilizing the game’s mechanical logic, all so that it makes sense to me as a GM. This allows me to use a system where I can personally stand behind every little detail of how the mechanics go: there’s no dissonance about what hit points mean or grief over how unfair level drain is, as instead of accepting somebody else’s ultimately arbitrary fiction I’m making these rules fit mine, just as the “rulings, not rules” principle advocates. And when we find that some rule doesn’t perform to the group’s satisfaction, we change it. I believe that this approach to the game mechanics works much better than utilizing a rulebook when the game is like old school D&D and relies on constant referee judgment.

– Eero Tuovinen

And here’s where I got my idea of “D&D as oral tradition” from:

Also, there is an important point in having the mechanical rules be an oral tradition: the process of forgetting stuff works to our advantage when we can claim that any rule unimportant enough to forget deserves to be forgotten. So even when somebody notes that hey, didn’t we have a rule about polearms and how they affect initiative, and then we stop for five seconds to consider the question and realize that we’ve forgotten all about that - it’s very easy and natural to just declare that rule null on the basis of the fact that we didn’t remember to use it in the last three fights where it could have come into play. Annulment due to nonfunction.

– Eero Tuovinen

Anyway, there’s more where this came from.

And you should take a longer look at Michael Julius’ blog.


Comments on 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels

Nice! So much to chew on in even this single post. I get a lot out of the connected discussions you post.

Michael Julius 2019-01-04 19:36 UTC

Thanks you for the encouragement! :)

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-04 20:26 UTC

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2019-01-01 Treasure Type Again

Looking at treasure types again, this type I’m taking the treasure types I postulated based on the ecology of the monster and comparing it to the ad-hoc treasure I assigned. Surely some of these new treasure types would result in a drastic increase or decrease in treasure value. Let’s see where the discrepancies lie and whether I can find an in-game explanatino for it, or wether these monsters should get a different treasure type.

Treasure Types

None: bear, giant bee, giant beetle, boar, giant cat, centaurs, giant centipede, giant crab, crocodile, elephant, giant fish, giant goat, hell hound, horse, ifrit, jinni, invisible stalker, jinni, giant lizard, marid, pegasus, giant scorpion, sea serpent, shark, skeleton, giant snake, giant squid, giant toad, giant weasel, wolf, giant worm, zombie.

Previously, some of these monsters did in fact get treasure:

The bees’ gelée royale is worth 5000gp. I’m going to call that “ingredients” instead of “treasure”, much like the value the horn of a unicorn has.

Centaurs used to get about 8100gp on average. This is way too much, I think. Centaurs are wild and free, they don’t carry around hoards. Why should they care about treasure?

The elephants’ tusks are worth 700gp on average. Same thing: change the label to “ingredients.”

Hellhounds were guarding a treasure worth 1700gp. I think it’s OK to relegate them to guardians that don’t have any treasure themselves. Hellhounds or winter wolves are used by giants as guardians, for example, and thus the treasure they are guarding is the giants’ treasure, not their own.

Strangely enough, marid had huge treasures in their palaces but afarit and jinn did not. All three are usually found in a prison object, however. This makes no sense and thus marid get no treasure, just like the other two.

Giant scorpions don’t have any treasure, but if they are accompanied by warlocks, then the warlocks have treasure. Hm, what to make of this! Perhaps warlocks should be a separate monster category?


  • Think about warlocks and their treasure!

Poor: Intelligent creatures that live in ruins, finding the things others have left behind (giant apes, doppelgänger, gargoyle, goblin, frogling, gnoll, kappa, lycanthrope, minotaur, myconid, nixie, giant spider, treant). These have very little treasure.

I moved minotaurs here because they didn’t seem to be “robbers”.

Average treasure is 1000–2500gp. Except froglings get way too much treasure: 17000gp on average! I think we should be aiming for 1000gp.


  • Reduce frogling treasure significantly

Baubles: Creatures that collect shiny things like gems (golem, swamp crane).

Average treasure is either 200 or 800. I think it makes more sense to get rid of this treasure type. Swamp cranes should be treated like animals because they aren’t really all that poisonous. They make for a good intro adventure. No treasure is more appropriate. This leaves golems. We could simply move the gems to “ingredients” and remove them from the treasure discussion. So both of these move to “None.”

Humanoids: Creatures that live in settlements (halfling, human, lizard people). These have a lot of silver and gold coins and a lot of magic items, but few platinum coins, gems and jewelry.

The treasures I assigned without giving it greater thought shows a very uneven distribution. The average treasure haul for halfings is 1300gp, for lizard people it is 2300gp, but for humans it is 17000gp! This is an incredible amount for bandits, pirates, and villages. A tenth of that would be more appropriate.

I think we should aim for something like 2000gp.


  • Reduce human treasure significantly

Rich: Creatures that get presents from others (giant, gnome, rakshasa, vampire). They have a lot of coin but also gems, jewelry and magic items.

The treasure averages are in the range of 5300gp (vampire) to 11300gp (rakshasa). Fair enough. I think we should aim for something like 8000gp.

Robbers: Creatures that rob merchants and travellers (ettin, hobgoblin, manticore, ogre, orc, troll). They tend to have a lot of silver and gold coins, and some gems, but few magic items and no platinum coins.

The treasure averages are in the range 800gp to 4500 with a few of them at the upper end. I think that’s fair and the the ones at the lower end should probably be moved up. I think we should aim for something like 4000gp.

Ancients: Creatures that are remnants of ancient empires (elf, spectre). These have magic items and platinum coins.

Average value of treasure is 2400gp to 4100gp. That sounds OK, given that magic items have no gp value. I think we should aim for something like 3000gp.

Scouts: Creatures travelling in small groups (bugbear, tengu). These may have some magic items and some platinum coins, but very little else.

These are basically in the service of the “ancients”, so same mix, but less. I think we should aim for something like 1000gp. Currently the treasure averages are 1600gp and 1800gp.

Terrors: Creatures with magical powers cursing the land (basilisk, chimera, gorgon, harpy, hydra, medusa, naga, salamander, shadow). These treasures have a lot of magic items because of all the failed heroes that tried to kill them.

Treasure averages vary between none and 5300gp. I’m not sure what to think. Is too low? I think we should aim for something like 5000gp.

Dead: The graves yield what people bury with their dead, mostly coins and jewelry (creeper, ghouls, mummy, wight, wraith).

Treasure averages vary between 1600gp an 2000gp with mummies being the “outlier” with 4100gp. I think we should aim for something like 2000gp.

Tags: Halberds and Helmets

Comments on 2019-01-01 Treasure Type Again

Updated the PDF!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-02 22:06 UTC

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2019-01-01 Episode 09

All the fireworks in the background turns my solo podcasting into a report from a war zone, I think. Stop it, firework people! I feel sorry for all the animals out there.

On a more positive note, I decided to use my tinkering on the PO33 K.O. for a jingle. Surprise!

But back on topic. Buildings are a great way to spend money for XP and to let players add to the world. And buildings require servants and guards, and these require wages. And when you take mercenaries along on an adventure, then that also costs money. This is perfect. Players will also have to equip their mercenaries because when they call for volunteers, they’ll only get the local peasants.


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Comments on 2019-01-01 Episode 09

Hm, looks like the MP3 players on my phone can’t play it! I tried to simply concatenation the jingle MP3 and the episode MP3 which worked well enough on my laptop (I think?) – anyway, fixed that and uploaded a new file, changed the publishing date and you should be seeing a working file, now! And if it worked well enough the first time around, I’m sorry you had to download it twice.

For my future self:

  1. send recording to myself via mail
  2. on the laptop, save the M4A file
  3. use Audacity to trim the file and export as WAV
  4. use the following command:
ffmpeg -i jingle-1.mp3 -i recording.wav \
       -filter_complex [0:a][1:a]concat=n=2:v=0:a=1 \
       -codec:v copy -codec:a libmp3lame -q:a 7 \

If there’s no need for editing and trimming, use the M4A file instead of the WAV file and it’ll work just fine.

Based on an answer I saw online. Note that the simpler ffmpeg -f concat -i list.txt -c copy out.mp3 works as advertised and you can play it using mpg321 but when you try to play it from Firefox, it doesn’t work, and it also doesn’t work when I try to play it from iCatcher on the iPhone. I guess testing it from Firefox is a good idea. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-03 14:14 UTC

Don’t worry about the artillery fire in the background. That’s the fireworks at midnight. 🙄

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-03 15:49 UTC

Listening to this episode, I find that I am rambling quite a bit. I got confused listening to it myself! I should not record episodes after midnight!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-03 17:19 UTC

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