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).

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2019-07-10 I need ideas for captains

I’m running the Razor Coast (Swords & Wizardry edition) using my own Halberds & Helmets rules.

⚠ ⚠ ⚠ Spoilers! ⚠ ⚠ ⚠

The book has various sections but generally speaking, there are two main plots, more or less.

  1. the coming of Dajobas, god of sharks, and the were-shark infestation
  2. the coming of Harthagoa, god of mad tentacles, and the sahuagin

My players have practically finished the first plot. Now I should be running the second part. They know about Harthagoa, they know how to recognize a member of the ring, they know the prime suspects... and now I’m stuck. Uninspired.

I drew up a list of captains, both known ones and new ones.

And… nothing. I’m drawing a blank.

How frustrating! I need to get into the groove and I’m hoping that posting about it here and writing some pages on the campaign wiki is going to get me started again.

We are 44 sessions into this campaign and I’m fearing stagnation! But I don’t want to!

I’ve pulled out The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport but it is a long text to read and I don’t enjoy reading most RPG books.

Sometimes I am at a loss when thinking about where to take the campaign next and then I pick one of the books from my shelf, looking for inspiration and I’m struck by how useless the books I have are for the problems I have. People and shops and gangs and councils don’t make an adventure. If only I knew what makes text magical adventure inspirational material. Perhaps it’s me, not the text? Do I have to be in the right mood and surrounded by the right things for this to work? 😭

I think in this case the problem is that this isn’t even pirate material. There are pirates in the area, but basically I’m concerned with the captains in the city.



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2019-07-09 Burning Wheel

There are basically four areas where my preferences differ from Burning Wheel.

It’s strange to post summaries of blog posts written so long ago. But today I was talking to @awinter and @PresGas about Burning Wheel and I realized that I hadn’t put it all together in a single post. But now I do – to be used in another eight years as a point of comparison. 🙂


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2019-07-08 Square Traveller

OK, square maps instead of hex maps, for Traveller, right?

This is the sort of map the Traveller Subsector Generator creates. It’s pretty good, I like it.

Original map

If you use the same data and rewrite it somewhat, you can use Text Mapper to generate the same map, but now with rounded communication and trade lines:

Hex map

And since Text Mapper recently got the ability of creating square maps instead of hex maps, all I had to do was fiddle a bit with the data, move the black frame around, move the labels into the correct positions, and we’re nearly there:

Square map

There are still so many things wrong: the symbols overlap the coordinates and the labels; the lines intersect the labels, so basically everything is terrible and unreadable at a second glance. But it will have to do for the moment. Perhaps if square Traveller maps make a breakthrough one day! 🤪

The map generated uses a separate map, Which in turn uses a separate library. If you want to regenerate, you need to put the following in the text area:

include https://campaignwiki.org/contrib/traveller-square-example.txt


Or take a look at the map and modify to taste.


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2019-07-02 Strange and beautiful things

I was listening to Judd’s podcast episode Reply Show Oscar 6/26/19: TPK the Canon with Jim and Supporter's Choice: Evocative blends of the mun.

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

This time, he talks about strange and evocative moments in role-playing games. I started wondering. Then I started making a little list in my head. Then I decided to write it down. Here we go.

I remember a Burning Wheel game where the character of player wanted some information from a girl that was in love with him. You know how it is in Burning Wheel. You pick the skill. You look for helping dice. You propose an outcome. You start the duel of wits. The GM talks about consequences. It’s somewhat dry. But suddenly inspiration grabs me and I’m feeling the summer heat in the early evening hours on this island and the breeze and her dress, and this meeting, and she loves this guy and he wants what? Are we going to elope? Is he going to finally be painfully honest and tell her he doesn’t love her back? And it turns into a minute or two of the heart overflowing. I actually don’t remember the details. It’s just that feeling of the heart overflowing. When I read the session report I don’t recognise the names. I don’t even know which of the scenes is the one that I’m remembering. It happened years ago. It was one of the few times where love played a significant part.

I remember a game of In a Wicked Age where we were struggling in a Mesopotamian palace and Florian was playing a witch or some other powerful woman and somebody else was playing a man and maybe it was me, I don’t remember. It all comes to a head. Half the palace is dead, there’s blood everywhere. The last conflict, the last die is rolled, and she wins. It’s over. Florian gets to decide how it ends and he looks at me and says: the two of us will marry. Aaaargh! So bad! So good! Sleeping with the enemy, indeed. What a way to end the game.

As I was trying to find the session report for the previous story but couldn’t find it. I saw nothing the like in the two session reports I could find. As I was searching for this on my own wiki, however, I found a vignette from an old school Planescape inspired D&D campaign. The party talked to a woman about her family issues. It turns out her brother is unhappy because he married an adventurer and she’s always away doing stuff instead of spending time at home. An innkeeper hears about all of this and later ask all the player characters whether they have somebody at home, waiting for them to come back. All the players think about their characters and give a short explanation of why they don’t. I felt this was a sweet moment.

That reminds me of another moment in that same campaign. The players had fought their way into a pirate lair, ascended the tower and faced the pirate king. Somehow I managed to provoke Johannes into accepting a duel to the death even though his character was surrounded by plenty of friends. And so it goes. It takes a while to whittle down the hit-points. And then the player character has to roll on the Death & Dismemberment table. He’ll die in a few rounds! And Johannes persists: no helping his character! And he manages to kill the pirate king in those last few moments before he dies. We were all very impressed. Here, at least, the session report matches my recollections!

That was a great campaign. I also remember a different scene, even earlier than that. The party had determined that they had to fight two manticores. Johannes’ character still had a basilisk head and decided that they wanted to build a basilisk puppet and scare the manticores away instead. It was hilarious. This too has a session report that confirms my recollection.

Oh, and there was Marco’s character in that D&D 3.5 game that had failed their first saving throw against a poison and knew that no matter what he rolled on that second roll, they would surely die. So he sat down on the cave floor and composed a death poem. It was powerful stuff. Belflin Goes To Arcadia. But you know how it is: the dead always get raised. 😁

Anyway, I’m sure I could dig up more. But the key takeaway for me is that none of this was mediated by the rules. The rules are important for many things, but when I think about the great moments, the strange and beautiful things that happened at the table, the rules don’t matter that much. They might enable this scene or that scene, but as long as they’re not making you waste the precious time you have left on this Earth, as long as you love the game, they don’t matter all that much.


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2019-07-01 Orcs

So... Hex Describe has plenty of orcs. I like orcs. I really like the Skyrim orcs. They’re good at making weapon. They have villages, families, run mines, you can friends with them. I played as an orc and always enjoyed visiting them.

When I run a game, orcs are sometimes evil, sometimes they’re not. I try to avoid simple good vs. evil morality questions because they’re so easy to answer. If the players are good, the answer is obvious. If the players are evil, I don’t want to play with them. Therefore, moral questions are always in the grey area where the decisions made at the table matter. With regards to orcs, in one campaign I remember orc tribes moving through the wilderness, threatening the construction site of the party’s castle. The players had to fight them off. Later in the game, there was an orc tribe living in a cave near some thieves. The players were expecting trouble, but the reaction roll went well and their leader had an evil, magic Orcus mace that kept insulting everybody and trying to incite violence – just like one of the players! They both had a silly Orcus weapon. Soon the players talked about setting up a trading post and more. Many sessions later, when they met again, some evil elves they had met before and some beholder-worshipping dwarves with their beholder showed up as well and there was a big fight. I think the thieves also showed up. In any case the party remained loyal to the orcs and so the orcs upheld their side of the bargain as well. Good times all around.

Right, so where am I going with this? I recently read two excellent essays by James Mendez Hodes:

  1. Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part I: A Species Built for Racial Terror
  2. Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part II: They're Not Human

And I guess it’s white fragility time, haha. OK, but I also want to do better. So I think what I need to do is look through the entries generating orc settlements in Hex Describe to see whether the orcs (and other societies) it generates are treated with respect.

“Since we cannot reliably extricate orcs from racial associations, we must characterize them with the same compassion, respect, and attention to stereotype we extend to people of color.” – James Mendez Hodes

Currently, the entries generated for mountain orcs are not so bad. I like the mountain orc product table, and the orc feature resulting in their leader being a famous sword smith in some sort of orcish tradition. I need more of these!

I was surprised to find that White Fragility is not just a book by Robin DiAngelo but also a paper with full text available. Very cool! Click on the link above.


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2019-06-25 Episode 25

Podcast Mass combat.


Mass Combat


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2019-06-17 Text Mapper with Squares

I’ve been trying to see whether I could get Text Mapper to create a square grid instead of a hex grid. Preliminary results aren’t too bad!

This is the traditional example hex map:

Hex Map

And this is the result when you feed the same text into a square grid mapper:

Square Map

It already looks like magic!

The goal I have in mind is to generate square-based Alpine maps.

And maybe I could change my Megadungeon Generator wanna-be to use it as the output instead of Gridmapper. Once I have that, I can generate images using web services without relying on a browser rendering the Gridmapper Javascript code.

OK. Alpine maps. I mean, the algorithm often uses loops over the six neighbouring directions in order to create the textual description of the map, so that surely needs fixing.

Then again, once the textual description has been generated, the code no longer cares about hexes and squares, as seen above. It just looks – different.

Let’s give it a try.

Random Alpine hex map:

Alpine Hex Map

Same data, but using squares:

Alpine Square Map


It is in fact recognisable! Like some weird projection from a strange fantasy cartographer. Uncanny.

I’m not even sure I want to change anything at this point! A quick scan at this point just shows that cliffs don’t look too good (because the icon library still uses six different cliff icons).

Well, a bit more studying also reveals that some spatial relationships are disrupted, like the swamp for 0102–0201. Or the river that flows from 1204–1105 now makes a detour through the mountains of 1104.


Comments on 2019-06-17 Text Mapper with Squares

Those pesky fantasy rivers 😝

Ynas Midgard 2019-06-17 13:02 UTC

I love some of the U-turns these rivers are making. 🙄

– Alex Schroeder 2019-06-17 18:18 UTC

I’d love to see Text Mapper with squares evolve into a tool you could map a dungeon from a text source. This would be awesome. The hex based map is one of the best campaign building tools, I’ve ever come across, particularly when combined with Hex Describe to populate the Hexes. It would be great to expand on this by having a tool to generate dungeon maps based on a square grid.

– Stephen Peto 2019-06-17 18:21 UTC

Did you give Megadungeon a try? Reload it a few times until you get close to 100 steps and click on the last one. You’re sent to Gridmapper. Here’s an example I got after a bunch of reloads, three levels deep.

Gridmapper would make a pretty good tool for interactively making a dungeon, and Megadungeon could be improved as well. But unfortunately we cannot embed Gridmapper into Hex Describe. If we want to generate dungeon maps for Hex Describe, we’ll have to enable this via Text Mapper.

So in short: yes! This idea excites me!

Perhaps one day we’ll need a way to import Text Mapper maps into Gridmapper such that we can edit it there, and then export it back from Gridmapper to Text Mapper. That would be very cool.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-06-17 18:30 UTC

At last, the Alpine algorithm can deal with a square grid and hopefully all the river anomalies have been resolved, now!

Rivers work, now

Next: extracting the SVG for the Gridmapper icons and making them available for Text Mapper...

– Alex Schroeder 2019-06-17 20:17 UTC

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2019-06-12 Torture in Games

In a recent episode of his podcast Daydreaming about Dragons, Judd Karlman talked about torture in role-playing games.

I prefer a different solution based on the fact that torture doesn’t work. If you need a book to tell you so, a quick search online finds Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation by Shane O’Mara. But there are countless other sources that will tell you the same thing.

There are only four kinds of people who claim that torture works:

  1. dictators who want to degrade their opponents and don’t actually care about the truth of what their victims say
  2. wanna-be dictators who will say anything to make them look dangerous
  3. stupid people repeating what dictators and wanna-be dictators have told them
  4. people in the employ of any of the above

All of them psychopaths: no empathy, no friends, exploitative, power hungry.

Back in 2016, I said how I handle torture in my games:

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!

That’s it. Whatever you want to hear, that’s what victims of torture tell you. When you think they are lying, they will confess to lying and tell you something else, trying to guess what you want to hear, anything to make it stop.

And if you want to talk about it at my table, I shall be happy to never play with you again. Uuuugh.

I think anybody who who has read anything about concentration camps in Germany, Armenian death marches in Turkey, the Spanish police torturing the separatist activists, the French soldiers torturing their prisoners in Algeria, the US torture prisons, the torture of prisoners in the Near East, the Russians torturing rebels in Chechnya, the torture of prisoners in China, and on and on and on, should know that it doesn’t work like it does in American TV. 🤮

Anyway, I’m with Judd: please think outside the torture box. Just do something else instead.


Comments on 2019-06-12 Torture in Games

Oh dear, thankfully I have never had players that wanted to torture an NPC beyond some threatening or the patently ridiculous. Whew. I don’t think I would play with those people long or often after that.

Jennifer 2019-06-14 06:53 UTC

You know how it is. It starts with the suggestion of mild abuse and some chuckling at the table, and escalates slowly. It took me a while to realize what was happening, to see the normalization of torture. I think it was at that time that I heard somebody else relate a similar story from their table. Perhaps it was Harald, I’m not sure. And that opened my eyes and from then on I decided to fight the normalization of torture at the table: stop the conversation before it escalates, saying that I didn’t want to hear it. And as soon as I said my magic sentence and added that we all know torture doesn’t work, the issue is gone. Everybody wakes up from the torture fantasy and agrees, of course it doesn’t work, and the game changes direction for the better. And then it’s never brought up again. Phew! 😅

– Alex Schroeder 2019-06-14 16:40 UTC

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2019-06-03 Elements of the Old School Renaissance

Over on Lasagna Social, Roger GS described it as:

… environment-focused, with exploration and social interaction the focus of creative expression, and combat not absent or abstracted but encapsuled in a simple system with a few nods to realism. We are creating interesting places to be dealt with discursively, rather than intriguing plot lines that are scaffolded by mechanics, or stages to play out a combat game in between cut scenes.

I love it. Much better than taking the old D&D rules and seeing where they can take us (although that is exactly what I am doing) – but what Roger is saying is what attracts me to products that don’t use variants of classic D&D. It’s where my love for the OSR intersects my love for other games.

I don’t think we need a new name for this kind of gaming, though. Adventure games is fine. (See Adventure Game is the name of the game.) Sword Dream? I don’t know. (See A Sword Dream.) For the moment, I’ll keep tagging these posts “Old School” and I will leave it up to you to decide whether it needs “Renaissance” or “Role-playing game” (or just “role-playing”) added to it. 🙂


Comments on 2019-06-03 Elements of the Old School Renaissance

On his blog, Roger writes:

At its best the DIY movement has given us: Borgesian monsters posing problems that go beyond combat; weird magic systems with flavor and creative effects; adventures that map out strange societies and oddball challenges. Can we really still call it “Old School” or is it more like a “Never-Was” school?

Certainly if anyone back in the 80’s was playing or writing like this, I never heard about them.

An excellent point!

– Alex Schroeder 2019-06-06 20:47 UTC

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2019-06-01 History and Games

JB is wrestling with the idea of a campaign in real, historical South America with conquistadores being the adventurers but has trouble making it work because the conquistadores were so damn horrible. It truly is a quandary. In the blog post and the discussion he says that dragons and giants are fine, but replacing humans with lizards and goblins is not.

I don’t think it would work. If it is a human vs human struggle and something you could delve into and learn from then why make it a game; and if a game, how can you turn all the suffering into entertainment, or if replaced by lizards and goblins you are erasing the real world victims out of history. All the ways forward are not good.

One interesting aspect is the question of how “near” things are and that apparently playing Vikings is fine (I’m currently in a Moonshae campaign where the Northmen and the Ffolk feel like just that). Steppe nomads is fine. Romans is fine. That’s because our identity is no longer tied up in these ideas. It’s only when you read a novel like Wake set in the Norman conquest that you might start to resent the British nobility again as you realize that where as you might have forgiven and forgotten about the Norman conquest, they still own the land.

I feel like the most important part would be to not have anybody be represented by caricatures (goblins instead of humans), and then decide how you felt about it all. Disease, slavery, genocide – it might not be a background I felt like playing in no matter the historical closeness.

(Also on Lasagna Social.)


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