This page lists the most recent journal entries related to role-playing games (RPG). There are some more pages on the related German page (Rollenspiele).

Free web apps I wrote:

Free games I wrote:

Looking for gamers here in Switzerland? → SpielerZentrale, NearbyGamers, Pen & Paper Schweiz Facebook Group, Dungeons & Dragons Meetup Zürich. Networking is important so that people moving here can find D&D games in Zürich, Switzerland.

Logo for my RPG feed

2018-08-19 Empty Hex Grids using LaTeX

@mcnees posted a Gist on Mastodon: “here is some LaTeX code with lots of different styles that you can customize. Fee free to fork and make improvements!” :)


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2018-08-02 OSR Blogs

On Google+, in the OSR Community, mista tipsta said they had a big list of OSR blog URLs up on Pastebin and asked to convert these into RSS feeds. Ramanan S. did the conversion and posted it on Github. I’ve changed the URL of my own blog in the list because I think people would want to have the RPG-only feed, so get it from here.

  1. visit page and click on the 「Raw」 button
  2. save the OPML file
  3. import into your feed reader

For example:

$ newsboat --import-from-opml=Downloads/osr.opml
Import of Downloads/osr.opml finished.

The 146 new blogs are tagged “Subscription”, so in Newsboat, use t to show all tags and pick it.


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2018-08-02 Exploration

@Tom and @not_another_mike were talking about a Western Marches style game. I started to organize my own campaigns around these principles back in 2008 and blogged about the experience in 2012: Whither the West Marches.

My impression from trying to run Western Marches style games over the years is that the term “exploration” is overrated. Exploration does not provide tension, wonder or joy at the table. It’s basically this:

  1. start with an empty map
  2. talk to people or otherwise learn of new locations
  3. put these on the map
  4. choose to go here or there, which provides for opportunities go back to step #2

That’s it. I’d say nothing is fundamentally incompatible with that.


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2018-08-02 Awards

Apparently it’s award season...

Brendan wrote an Ennies publisher guide where he takes all the publishers he likes from the Ennies site and provides links and explains why he likes them. Good stuff!

Ramanan published his The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming 2018.

His verdict:

  • Best Game: Daniel Sell and Jeremy Duncan for Troika
  • Best Setting Book: Patrick Stuart & Scrap Princess for Veins of the Earth (with layout by Jez Gordon)
  • Best God Damn Book of 2017: Jacob Hurst, Gabriel Hernandez, Evan Peterson and Donnie Garcia for The Dark of Hot Springs Island

Of all the books mentioned, I think I only have Veins of the Earth, which is mostly a thick book. It’s somewhat inspiring to make your game weirder but it hasn’t really influenced my game, I think. I just leafed through it a few times, read a few passages, got mesmerized by the language, nodded along, and put it back on the shelf. I wrote a review back in 2017.

I was interested in Troika. Do you have it? Have you used it? How did it go?


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2018-07-03 Rotating Text Mapper Maps

A user sent me a little NodeJS script to rotate a map in order to get “stacked columns”.

I wonder whether I should add a different hex stacking option to Text Mapper.


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2018-05-28 What makes an OSR Game

Beautiful summary of what it means for a game to “be OSR”, i.e. to be part of the Old School Renaissance, found on a blog:

One of the most persistent myths about the old-school style is that it’s a numbers-first, tactical combat based, hack-and-slash style of gameplay. It’s not. The game is lethal, and if you wish to avoid the many varieties of grisly demise on offer, you need to think creatively, avoiding and subverting combat scenarios rather than engaging in them. […]

So, then, […] why do OSR systems have so many combat rules? As opposed to, say, rules for feeling things, or exploration? If the game is about things other than combat, why isn’t that reflected in its ruleset? […] because the way OSR play engages with the rules is fundamentally different from most other schools of RPG design. Your character sheet is a list of the few limitations imposed on you, not a list of your awesome powers and skill trees. […] OSR play is what’s not written - what’s written is there to ground the situation and make things difficult.

This is from the blog post Does An OSR Game Need Dedicated Combat Rules? from the recommended blog The Graverobber's Guide by D. G. Chapman.


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2018-05-11 Charming

How do you run charmed characters?

I find charms work best of combined with simple commands by the referee. I play it like Jedi mind tricks. “You will protect me with your life.” Or “You will fetch the black sword for me.” Combine this with a simple “you may roll a save if allies of the magic user attack you.” That also means it won’t work for long periods of time because reduced agency is obviously frustrating. But it’s still better than telling them to role play being friends with the bad guys. That only works if the players are into that kind of messing with their friends. Sometimes they are and then it’s hilarious.


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2018-04-28 The Pagoda of Pazuzu

OK, I think I’m going to submit another entry to the One Page Dungeon Contest.

It uses the Neris font. “A display sans for one paragraph (or shorter) length text: quotes, openings, titles, etc. Sure, you could use it for body copy and get away with it, but that’s not where the typeface shines.”

It still workes for this one page document, though. Neris Black for the title, Neris Light for the body.

Inspired by my visit to Miyajima and seeing the Five-Tiered Pagoda at Itsukushima, as well as visiting Sanjūsangen-dō and seeing the 1000 statues of of the 1000-armed Kannon.

The color scheme is the same powerful scheme I used with all the pictures I painted using Zen Brush 2. Black and white, and red for colour accents. Too bad this trio has been popular with all sorts of people I am not associated with, including some particularly evil dudes. Yikes!

Well, in this case the picture is based on a photograph I took in Miyajima and then I made a sketch on top of it using Procreate on the iPad. But I still want it to look like some sort of ink painting.

You’ll notice that once again, I’m falling far short of my own guidelines for quality dungeons. Why is that? I don’t really want to spend too many hours on a dungeon that is going to be used at the table in a 3h segment. Spending more than 1h for prep in this context is already wasting my time. So it can’t be pretty and I have to rely on people being able to draw their own inferences:

  • If Eron is a “rabble rouser” then maybe he’s not a nice person by can be manipulated into storming the pagoda?
  • If one of the scrolls the librarians want is the Psalm of the Fourth Silence owned by a certain Enron, then clearly there must be tensions between the two groups.
  • If the 1000 statues require you to say their name as you pass them by, clearly you must have convinced one of the Eron, one of the monks or one of the librarians to help you.
  • The image of the pagoda supposedly implies that you can fly up to the upper levels and bypass the lower levels. Hopefully the list of spells available to the seven librarians, two sword masters and the demon are enough inspiration for a referee to turn this into a different kind of challenge.

And why no map? Well, what is it for? I don’t have the time to make something nice for the referee since that’s me myself and I. If there is a map, do the measurements matter? If they don’t, can the map be represented by a flow diagram? And if the flow diagram is simple – if it is linear, or has very few nodes, or very few branches – then we can simply omit the map and write some text. That’s what I wanted to do here. The picture lets you know all there is to know: there are a bunch of rooms on top of each other. If you can’t climb or fly, it’s a linear dungeon. As most of my wilderness encounters involve small lairs – and by that I mean one to five rooms at most – I practically stopped making maps.


Please let me know if you ever use it in one of your campaigns.


Anybody wondering how I would rule +1/+3 vs children: I’d say almost all creatures are children of their parents. Except for the undead, demons, devils, slimes, golems, robots, clockwork bots, and the like.


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2018-04-28 Interviews

The following started as a solo thread on Mastodon...

One of these days I should write up some interview questions I would like to see asked of other people in the RPG world. These days, I find most interviews extremely boring. Why is that? Something about there being no challenges, very little personal reveals, and product shilling, of course. They read like ads in dialogue form, not like interesting interviews.

So here’s my stream of thought on interview questions: How is your favourite human doing? Do you play role-playing games together? What was the last thing you did together? What does game design give you? Why did you base your design on rules X (Fate, Powered by the Apocalypse, classic D&D) and why didn’t you just house rule a similar game? Why did you pick these artists? Where did you find them? How exactly does the back and forth between you work? I’d love to hear more about the financial arrangements. How do you balance friendship and marketing? How do you keep your social media accounts interesting and yet peddle your wares? How do you feel about copyright these days? Where do you find your sparring partners and inspiration? Where do you think your strengths are? What about your weakness and how do you compensate for it? Why go back to old designs? Does the Long Tail work for you financially? Does game design work for you, financially? If not, why ask for money in the first place?

I had to think of somebody while I wrote down these questions and so I thought of @halfjack who has been on my radar ever since I bought the diaspora hardcover from Lulu. He said: “I can’t remember the last interview I did. Happy to fix that with a new one though!” I sure hope he gets an interesting #interview!

Read his answers on Google+.

In the interest of fairness I think I should answer these myself, too.

How is your favourite human doing? My wife has recovered from breast cancer, mastectomy and chemo therapy and we’re back out there running and enjoying ourselves. Chemo also led to immediate menopause, which also takes some getting used to.

Do you play role-playing games together? Yes we do. I run three campaigns. One of them is with a friend and some kids, one is my English campaign, and another one is my German campaign. She plays in my German campaign. I remember trying to explain the concept of role-playing games to her all those years ago and she just thought it was nuts and hadn’t ever heard of it. I think the only time I myself had seen role-playing games in school was my own group when I was about 15 or 16 years old, and later I learned of another group which had also been playing for quite a while. That’s it. My wife thought that it was a distinctly German or US thing; there was simply none of it in Switzerland. I am not sure and I have no data. So all I know are German speaking Facebook groups and two yearly mini cons in the German speaking part Switzerland. They are both very small, maybe fifty people or less. My wife doesn’t go. When she does see some role-playing people we always talk about the awkward moments. Some of these people seem to have a very hard time, socially. They don’t fit in, they have a hard time reading a group of people, when to speak, what to say. I feel the question hanging in the air: these are your people? I guess they are. Most of them don’t sit at my table but based on what I see, we’re a very tolerant bunch of people.

What was the last thing you did together? We went running. I think we did nearly 7km and tomorrow we will do some more running. Last week I came back from a three week holiday to Japan with two friends and their families. My wife didn’t come because she still fears the after effects of Fukushima. She knows it’s irrational but that doesn’t make the fear go away. If the cancer comes back, she’ll be looking for reasons and she knows it. It doesn’t help that she had leukaemia as a kid shortly after Chernobyl. Genetic testing seems to indicate a genetic mutation of unknown clinical relevance in a gene related to fighting cancer. So... it’s hard to argue about these fears and I went alone. At the same time, she’s been pushing hard for a reduction in work hours and she was now able to reduce her work to an 80% job. This is great because now the two of us have Fridays off and already we’re feeling much better about a lot of things. That certainly takes the pressure off of work. Work is clearly relegated to making money, not to providing identity and meaning to our lives. I’ve been working part time for a long time. I’m happy to find that she’s finally able to do the same.

What does game design give you? Working on my game booklets first and foremost means writing down my house rules. Once they are written down, they have more standing power. It gives them an existence beyond our memories. In addition to that, I’ve found that working on the documents scratches my itch regarding all the other skills I don’t have: layout, typography, art. I don’t know much about these but I want to know more. Having a project or two or three really pushes me to learn more. In a these are ways to work with a computer without programming all the time, and so it’s “same same but different.” A new kind of thing I can do at the laptop.

Why did you base your design on rules X (Fate, Powered by the Apocalypse, classic D&D) and why didn’t you just house rule a similar game? I used Basic D&D from 1981 by Moldvay as the basis of my game. When I learned to play role-playing games, I started out with the first edition of Das Schwarze Auge, published around the same time. It was similar in complexity. When I returned to role-playing games in 2006, I got sucked in by the publication of Rules Cyclopedia and then I started reading the Kitsunemori campaign setting and so I was set on the path of D&D 3.5. For a few sessions we played M20 but soon one of the players clamoured for D&D 3.5 and I relented. Big mistake. Things got more and more complex and my campaigns flourished, and eventually we switched to Pathfinder and still it was good, but then I tried to go back and eventually it all fell apart. I had to start with a new group. I think my wife, Samuel and Stefan were the only ones to make the change with me. And so I arrived at Labyrinth Lord and B/X D&D. I tried Labyrinth Lord with my wife and it was good. My house rules started out as a little player handout for those that couldn’t be bothered with reading it all. And who needs spells up to level nine and class advancement until level twenty? My campaigns always seemed to be fun until we got to level ten or so. That’s why at first my house rules only went up to level five and now they go up to level ten. I don’t think more is required. And with that, level limits are also off the table. This is great.

Why did you pick these artists? I don’t seem to have the talent to speak to artists in a way that makes them want to collaborate with me. I don’t make any money with my stuff and thus I also don’t want to pay anybody. But if nobody is enthusiastic about collaborating, then I don’t want to ask them to work for free (or for “exposure,” haha). So I decided to try and work on my own skills. I illustrated my House Rules using public domain pictures of helmets (this made sense because I called it Halberds & Helmets), and I drew the monsters in my Referee Guide myself.

Where did you find them? I didn’t find any. :(

How exactly does the back and forth between you work? All I can say is how the back and forth between me and my players is: I’m trying to run my campaigns using Eero Tuovinen’s idea of D&D as oral history. If you remember the rule apply it. If you forget it, it was not important anyway. Thus, no need to consult the rule books. Rules change over time, depending on the interest of players. I try to keep it that way: if we don’t use some rules, I drop them from the document; if we run into a problem and make a ruling, I add it to the document.

I’d love to hear more about the financial arrangements. There are none. I’m a software developer by day and thus I don’t need the money and I really like the idea of DIY D&D. Do-it-yourself is great!

How do you balance friendship and marketing? I don’t do any significant marketing.

How do you keep your social media accounts interesting and yet peddle your wares? The only marketing effort I make is that I post the occasional links to work in progress or I link to blog posts when I’m involved in a discussion on the topic. That’s it. Thus, I think I keep my social media accounts very interesting and practically don’t peddle my wares. Then again, I don’t make any money off it. But then does that lead to a world where the people who ask for money have to work for it and thus swamp us with their messages and those who do work for free don’t post about and are relegated to obscurity? Oh well, perhaps that’s what it means. Money pushes us harder and I refuse to “work” for role-playing games. I have to be entertained by every single step I take.

How do you feel about copyright these days? Generally speaking I feel like it makes everything harder. Sharing is complicated. People rarely understand the licenses. Even if we do, they make everything harder. If I publish my house rules and don’t do any actual copying and pasting of the SRD, do I still need the OGL in my document? I hate this. All those well meaning people illustrating their blog posts using images they took off the net, all of them in violation of copyright. My current position is that copyright was appropriate for a world of a few publishers printing books but these days we are practically all involved in the process of copying, modifying and distributing works. The Book Free Culture talks about this a lot. The Creative Commons licenses were created to get around the need to ask for permission. No more asking for permission is key. So, generally speaking, I went from the OGL to Creative Commons to Public Domain dedications.

Where do you find your sparring partners and inspiration? I don’t, except for my players.

Where do you think your strengths are? I’m best at running games. I’m a good host. I can organise games. And as far as game design goes, I can think things through and I can write it up.

What about your weakness and how do you compensate for it? My weakness is that I’m not an artist and that I have a hard time doing new things. I compensate by practising my painting by consciously deciding to not design any new games. I just stick to old ideas that worked well over decades: classic D&D, classic Traveller, and so on.

Why go back to old designs? I think familiarity with the rules translates to people at the table being able to focus on other things. To take D&D as an example: everybody knows how to fight and thus people can focus on the important decisions of whether to fight at all.

Does the Long Tail work for you financially? I don’t sell anything so I have no idea whether anybody looks at my old stuff. I suspect nobody does. Do people still play M20? I don’t think so. Thus, nobody cares about M20 Hard Core, I’m sure.

Does game design work for you, financially? Not at all.

If not, why ask for money in the first place? I don’t.

Wow, that turned out to be a very long blog post!


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2018-04-10 Updates

Not much to say. I’m enjoying my time in Japan. Sometimes, when we’re back at the hotel, I sit in my room and work on Hex Describe. Check out the activity on GitHub, if you’re interested.

If you want, reload the village description a few times. There’s more information for keeps, towers, and temples of Set, Orcus, and Thor. I still need to add more descriptions for the remaining major powers.


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I like your scripts they can be very handy. Since you are old school you might also like to check: https://www.rulerofkings.com

ROK 2018-07-13 18:42 UTC

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