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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2020-04-08 The Regiment

A post on Reddit asking for good role-playing games about the Second World War reminded me of The Regiment (Blog, Download).

Check this out: Operation Market Garden (Session 1). I was stunned by the write-ups for this short campaign of The Regiment run and written by Paul Riddle. Reading it, knowing that it’s the product of a role-playing game, seeing the short game master commentary interleaved with the events, seeing the rolls and what it meant in the game, remembering those classic movies like A Bridge Too Far, those classic shooters like Medal of Honor: Frontline – this seemed just right. This must be the game I’m looking for.

The thing to understand, however, is that The Regiment used to be an Apocalypse World hack for World War II but the latest revision of the rules has changed the setting to a far future inspired by Aliens called Colonial Marines. I’d say the old rules are still a great match.

Anyway. Players belong to an Assault Unit (400 people) divided into various platoons and two infantry companies (120 people). Companies are made of more platoons (40 people), platoons are made of squads (13 people), squads are made of firing teams (4 people) and the players will probably be playing a firing team. If characters die, you just play the next person. Paul’s third session report includes a character death and a short discussion thereof.

Also, look at those maps. Awesome!


Comments on 2020-04-08 The Regiment

I remember seeing The Regiment on John’s site, but thinking it was too complex. Hm. Time to take another look. Thank you for reminding me!

Norbert Matausch 2020-04-08 19:37 UTC

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2020-04-07 Opposed 2d6 rolls

I got an interesting question on Reddit the other day:

Why use opposed 2d6?

Firstly, I think I like rolling dice as a referee so designs where the referee rolls no dice weren’t appealing, e.g. Dungeon World. Second, in systems where the referee sets difficulty levels I feel continuously stressed out by having to determine all these things, maybe even defend my assessment against players, e.g. Traveller. When I saw the opposed roll in the Blackmoor documentary, I saw that rolling for circumstances was best: I can always interpret the oracle of the dice.

That is, instead of wondering “how difficult is this computer to hack, exactly?” I can simply decide “it’s probably a bit harder than normal” and roll 2d6+1, and then we’ll all know whether this computer has decent ICE installed...


Comments on 2020-04-07 Opposed 2d6 rolls

Funny you should mention Traveller. There used to be a thing in classic Traveller called a “situation throw” which was just as you describe: I in my 20th century ignorance have no idea how hard it is to repair the air scrubber in the derelict vessel, so I roll 2d6 to determine the difficulty.

Traveller dice modifiers can be tacked on with a simple ±1 for each beneficial or unfortunate circumstance that is established before the roll, and the DM’s job of rationalizing why the scrubber is in such poor shape that it requires a 10 or better is a bit easier than figuring out what it “should” be.

– Christopher Jahnke 2020-04-08 00:12 UTC

Absolutely. I saw that in Chris Kubasik’s wonderful blog posts in 2017/2018: What “The Traveller” Adventure had to Say About Situation Throws and part 2 with Randomized Situation Numbers. I approve. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-08 05:44 UTC

This! Feeling stressed about determining the difficulty of a task I absolutely didn’t think of while prepping the game. That’s probably the one thing I find most irritating when GM’ing.

I’m now thinking of doing opposed rolls with the usual d20 roll high on the players side (because that’s what they’re used to), and a bell curve Nd6 roll on the GMs side.

Wanderer Bill 2020-04-09 18:42 UTC

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2020-04-03 S.M.A.R.T. RPG and King Arthur Pendragon

I got a very nice voice mail by the Goblin Henchman in response to my latest Halberds and Helmets Podcast episode on Just Halberds, my simple 2d6 game. It talked about their own simple 1d6 game, the S.M.A.R.T. RPG. It basically boils everything down to the AD&D surprise system, of all things. I recommend reading up on it. 🙂

Characters have five attributes in the range of 1–6 and you roll 1d6: rolling your number or lower is a success, and the measure of your success is how high you rolled. Thus, trying to make an attack with an attribute at 1, you only succeed ⅙ of the time and if you do, you only do 1 point of damage (⅙×1=⅙ on average). With an attribute of 3, you succeed ½ of the time and if you do, you do 1–3 points of damage (½×1½=¾ on average).

It’s an interesting system and reminded me of the King Arthur Pendragon (KAP) system where skill tests are rolled on a d20 using the same idea: roll as close but still lower than your skill to succeed, roll your skill exactly for a critical success, and if you’re in a contest, both contestants make a skill check and you have to pass, and beat your opponent with the same roll. Thus, one person having a skill of 10 doesn’t just get a success on 1–10, their max result in a contest is also a 10. What I didn’t like about this is that it’s possible for both contestants to fail. What does that mean? Do you just roll again?

The really nice part about KAP is when you apply it to traits. All traits come in pairs that add up to twenty. So, if you’re chaste 12, then you’re lustful 8. If you try to be chaste, roll a d20 and try to get a 12 or lower. If you roll higher, your character automatically has to test for the opposite, even if you as their player don’t want that: characters have autonomy! So once you failed the chastity test, you need to make a lustful test: roll a d20 and now you try to roll higher than 8 because rolling an 8 or lower means your character succeeds at being lustful even though you wanted them to be chaste. Only if you fail both rolls does the player get to decide again.

It’s weird, and it’s interesting, and it makes players feels like their characters have a life of their own, and I like that. I don’t like the “fail twice and it’s up to the player to make a free choice again” aspect, though. I think I’d much prefer it if failing at being chaste automatically meant being lustful.

Related: 2013-08-05 Character talks about unbalanced Pendragon characters having to Roll whether their player likes it or not.


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2020-04-03 Episode 30

Podcast On the 2d6 system I’ve been using for my new campaign: Just Halberds. How to create a character, how to resolve conflicts, and for combat, how to combine initiative, attack, and damage, into one opposed roll.


  • Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules
  • Norbert G. Matausch’s interview with Bob Meyer on Ancient-School Roleplaying
  • Secrets of Blackmoor on the early role-playing game that David Arneson ran
  • Christopher Kubasik’s notes on an interview with Mark Miller on how Mark Miller plays Traveller
  • Christopher Kubasik’s blog post, Notes on the Personal Combat System, where he talks about the close relationship of early Traveller and Kriegsspiel: “Traveller was originally written for a much more fluid play style. Modifiers and more, based on circumstance, actions, and results are adjudicated on the fly by the Referee.”
  • Dungeon World alternatives like World of Dungeons (and the German translation)
  • 2015-12-26 Benefits of Dungeon World talks about the flow of combat: “The cinematic flow happens because the referee starts by threatening a character, the character reacts and ends up making a move. If the move was a success (they rolled 10+ on 2d6), the player keeps talking, or another player starts talking, until one of them ends up making another move. If the move was a partial success (they rolled 7–9 on 2d6), the referee is to make a soft move, that is, upping the ante, threatening the players with more enemies, a deterioration of their situation, whatever. Something gets worse but there are no immediate consequences. If the move was a failure (they rolled 6- on 2d6), then the referee is to make a hard move, that is, dealing damage, separating party members from the rest. Something bad happens and there are immediate consequences.”
  • 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels talks about the process at the table that starts with simple rules and develops into a house system by simply making rulings at the table and using them as precedent as long as you remember them. If you forget, then the ruling probably just deserved to be forgotten again and you’ll make a new one if the issue ever comes up again.
  • Just Halberds: the rules I discussed in my podcast
  • Helle Barden: the German edition of these rules

The title page of Just Halberds


Comments on 2020-04-03 Episode 30

Got some interesting questions and pointers all over the Internet.

Non-player characters. I usually think of them as D&D people: guards, thieves, soldiers, tax collectors, inn keepers, they all have one hit. If soldiers and guards are wearing light armour and shield, they have 3 hits. Leaders may have three hits, plus hits granted by armour, in other words: like player characters. Famous evil doers might have up to five hits, plus hits granted by armour.

Spells per day. I don’t limit spell use per day. I’d hope that this would regulate itself at the table, if overdone. You might consider saying that this is really tiring and give the opposition a bonus, if you wanted. Or even simpler: ask the table. How do they feel about endless teleportation? They probably don’t care. What about endless magic missiles? They probably don’t care. What I’m getting at is that only very specific spells that can be cast in endless succession are problematic, and in that case maybe that spell simply needs to be changed. If you had a spell that is super powerful but it doesn’t make difference if you cast it multiple times, no problem. If the fireball kills twenty people, then being able to cast it many times in a row may be problematic, depending on how you view it. Make fireballs smaller, more like magic missiles, and the problem is solved. Or make it bigger, so that it’s effectively a fight-ending spell and make it hard to get. This makes sure that there is simply no point in casting the spell multiple times. Either way, problem solved.

– Alex Schroeder

This 2d6 game that you are working on and Landshut truly has me inspired. I am about to DM for the first time in 7 years (and play first time again in 7 years). These are the rules I am going to use with my friends this weekend who have never played.

The #1 thing holding me back the last few years is system and how my mind constantly wants to go from one thing to another. Can never commit to anything. But this system is so flexible and beautiful. Only thing I feel a lack for is the initiative system, doesn’t quite feel normal or natural to me. It feels like it would leave passive players to feeling left out. I think I prefer the system to have a built in mechanic to give the players a move.

Either way thanks Alex!

Minalt 2020-04-03 21:58 UTC

Good luck! In our games the system automatically led players to nominate each other if they hadn’t taken rolled any dice in a while. Thus, anytime a player wins the opposed roll and does damage, they need to decide who goes next. They look at the table, they need to pick somebody. This is the moment to make suggestions, to point at people, to comment that maybe Samuel has been pretty quiet lately, and so on. I’d give it a try.

If you don’t like it, I would simply go around the table, irrespective of who won the last opposed roll.

Either way, please report back! I’d love to hear how it turned out.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-03 22:04 UTC

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2020-04-01 Skills and special abilities for Just Halberds

Perhaps it’d be nice to see what skills and special abilities I’m using in my 2d6 game of Just Halberds.

  • fist-fighting, like boxing, useful in melee
  • sword-fighting, same thing, melee
  • archery, for ranged combat (I allow shooting into melee)
  • legends, a knowledge skill which I’m going to use to dump setting info, knowing that I have at least one player that is interested; maybe also an indicator that they want to create some aspects of the setting; generally something I wouldn’t suggest you add to your skill list but I asked for player input and this is what I got so I’m going to roll with it
  • smart, an even trickier skill selected by a child and inspired by a TV show; it’s tricky because I think smart play is what players do; for now I’m simply using it to give advice and warnings to the party; I guess you could think of it as a call for support and I’m totally willing to lend that support

In general, I think you can pick any skill list a game and it would work.

Special abilities are trickier. Let’s talk about spells, first.

  • air control is a spell, but it’s hard to put to good use; I don’t mind but it does require some thinking outside the box; for now players have used it to collect giant mushroom spores and to deliver those spores into the noses of orcs...
  • fireball is a simple spell that works as expected, except D&D players may expect it to be very powerful but if a newly created character is getting it, I feel it’s more like a flaming missile...
  • icicle is a spell that deals damage, maybe pierces things, or shatters, or freezes water upon impact; no issue there
  • protection is a bit harder to figure out: does it provide a +1 one for the entire fight, or just for defence? I haven’t decided
  • talk with animals works quite well
  • wave is a spell to wash people off their feet and displace them; might also deal damage if they are smashed into stuff; needs some water to be carried along, of course

As for other special abilities:

  • guard is a special ability for fighters where they can interpose themselves between an attacker and a defender; a good idea if tough orcs are attacking your mages; the tricky part is deciding when your fighter is out of actions; I guess if the fighter keeps taking damage, no problem, and if the fighter wins the opposed role, regaining the initiative means they then get to nominate somebody else to act, so there’s no actual problem at the table
  • sneaking is a straight forward specialisation; I’m not sure what sort of extra effect its use would have... perhaps this should be a skill instead of a special ability?

I’m also thinking of other skills and special abilities:

  • hardened might be a skill (anybody can learn it) that just grants you an extra hit

If you can take every skill and special ability just once that also puts a kind of limit on the numbers because it sounds awkward if your profession is fighter and your skills are sword-fighting, blade-mastery, duelling, and agility, for a total of +5 when attacking with your sword. Then again, perhaps that’s what your players like? I think I wouldn’t like any bonus that goes beyond +3. Pick a profession, maybe a skill, and maybe a special ability, and maybe use a magic weapon, that’s how you get a maximum of +4. Sounds good to me! The rest should be special abilities that grant you special effects if you use them. I think that’s going to be more entertaining.

I guess what I’d suggest, therefore:

  1. pick a list of evocative spell names from some rules you like or make up your own (picking spells from a list you already know makes it easier to agree on the effects, I’d say – specially if you’re just starting); as for myself I’m going to use my Spellcasters in this campaign so that gives me a nice set of D&D-like spells to start with
  2. pick a list of skills from some rules you like; make sure these skills are appropriate for your setting and tone (don’t use administration unless bureaucrats are important for cool adventures in your setting); avoid super specific skills because you only get to pick a single one when starting out; also make sure that the skills aren’t something everybody can do (if everybody can ride a horse, don’t add riding as a skill); also avoid skills you want your players to have (lying, scheming, knowing, persuading, charming – I like people to act at the table)

Something like this:

  • fist-fighting
  • sword-fighting
  • assassination
  • pole-arms
  • archery
  • slings
  • sneaking
  • disguising
  • singing
  • some languages
  • some instruments
  • first aid (get people back from zero hits)
  • hardiness (gives you an extra hit)
  • boating
  • hunting (includes reading trails)

And if your players want to be a specialist of a particular weapon, maybe whips, or throwing axes, or staves, something more than what being young, fit, and hungry for adventure would give you, just add it to the list. Same for social skills or thievery skills.

Also consider something like jousting or duelling if your game is about chivalry or some other honour code in a society dominated by ritual violence. It’s useless in combat but super important at social occasions amongst knights or samurai, etc.


Comments on 2020-04-01 Skills and special abilities for Just Halberds

I checked the Traveller skill list and didn’t find too many things that are exciting.

  • “appropriate for your setting and tone” ✓
  • not “super specific skills” ✗
  • not “something everybody can do” ✗
  • not “skills you want your players to have” ✗

It’s tricky!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-02 07:10 UTC

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2020-03-29 Developing the rules

I’ve had two sessions of my 2d6 “ancient school” game, now. I started with a small set of rules (see 2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules) and I am starting to feel the urge to systematise my approach. Perhaps this should go under “Referee Guide” of the system? 🙂

How should I handle a spell with an area of effect? I have a character that can throw fireballs. I need to remember that this characters is just a beginner. So their “fireball” is more like a magic missile: it strikes a single person, or if it causes a big explosion then it’s a scary looking explosion that doesn’t really kill people. Thus, to affect more people at the same time, I should just treat that as a new spell, a new special ability.

How to handle huge differences? I mean, I basically have this rule:

If you win the opposed 2d6, you deal damage. If the difference is small, you deal one hit. If the difference is larger, let’s say three or four, you might deal two hits; more than that and it’s a “special effect” (blown back, injured, taken out, depending on the kind of attack).

The reason I use these numbers is that new character have three hits per default. Third level? Maybe. 🙂

But what happens if you win or lose with a difference of eight? Of ten? It’s overkill! I guess you could say that a difference of ten is five hits (since the current wording could be interpreted as “divide by two”) and if you have a fighter with heavy armour and a shield they have six hits so they’re still going to survive it.

Also, remember that one side rolling a two on 2d6 is a 1 in 36 chance, and the other side rolling a twelve on a 2d6 is another 1 in 36, so this should be really rare: 1 in about 1296. This isn’t going to happen often and thus a catastrophic setback would be just fine.

I should get better at narrating what getting hit entails. Does a hit or two have fictional consequences? One hit, bruises, two hits, serious injuries that take a long time to heal? Perhaps I’m still thinking in D&D hit-points: those hits are more like “morale” or “will to live”?

I’m happy with using D&D HD as simple hits. Ten orcs have ten hits. Six ghouls have twelve hits. That worked just fine. An orc leader (3 HD) gets three hits. I’m also happy with the way I assigned the bonus: orcs get +0 to attack. Ghouls in their tunnels get +1. The orc leader is like a human fighter and should get +2; in this case he’s wielding a magic mace +1 so he actually gets +3. That scared the players!

I also try to assess how easily an enemy might be affected by something. Thus, if the players have the initiative and pick the fire mage to attack the ghouls, then I might say something like “the ghouls are totally not used to fight fire and so they just roll +0 this turn” – but once the ghouls aren’t attacked by magic, or if they have the initiative and decide how to attack, then they’re back to getting their +1 bonus.

I guess this could be formalised into a system of strengths and weaknesses and all that, but perhaps we don’t actually need to remember that. Do we?

I’m a big fan of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D as oral culture:

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

I totally recommend that old blog post of mine where I pulled together some good quotes on that issue: 2019-01-01 Warm and fuzzy feels.

So, given that: do I need a list of monsters and their capabilities? Do I need to write this down? Maybe not. When Norbert G. Matausch interviewed Bob Meyer on the use of dice and all that, he said:

The exact mechanisms, and way I determine results, I prefer to keep obscure by keeping them to myself.

I don’t know if I agree. I guess I like to see the wizard behind the curtain, I like to see how it all works so that it can be taken up by other people. Isn’t that how humans rose to great height: by being able to transmit their knowledge, creating culture? To keep it all in my head and not writing it down anywhere in some public place feels weird. Perhaps that’s simply the social media zeitgeist. Everything happens in public, or not at all. 😅

Anyway, I’m happy to be back blogging about role-playing games. 😁


Comments on 2020-03-29 Developing the rules

Hey Alex, great to get some insight into your gaming/refereeing process! Personally, I write down my monsters, their abilties and hits (”Orc: 1 hit, nasty bite/infectuous on 10+”, for instance). When it comes to magic, I either handwave the effects, or, for combat spells, the player rolls 1d6 or more, if the character’s experience warrants it, for damage.

It’s rulings all the way, but they have to follow from the fiction and stay consistent.

Norbert 2020-03-30 08:20 UTC

Here’s something I wonder: if the orcs win with a roll of 10 vs. the player with a roll of 9, is the effect big (”infectuous on 10+”) or small (since the difference is just one)? These first two sessions I used the difference instead of the absolute value of the winning roll.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-30 10:04 UTC

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2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules

Yesterday we had our first session for the new campaign. I’m the referee, two of my friends are players, they brought some of their kids along, one of the kids brought along their girlfriend and the girlfriend brought along her little brother. Perfect! 😃

We did a small intro of all our characters, and I asked them all to list the following:

  1. name
  2. profession (anybody can do it, but you cannot change it)
  3. a skill (anybody can do it, and you might learn new ones in-game)
  4. a special ability (you may learn new ones from teachers in-game)

I was basing my rules on Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules, the interview he did with Bob Meyer on Ancient-School Roleplaying, and very simple Dungeon World alternatives like World of Dungeons (including the German translation of World of Dungeons).

Charakters can take three hits. Light armour grant an extra hit but prevent spell casting. Heavy armour grants two extra hits but prevents spell casting, sneaking, climbing, running, and swimming. A shield grants an extra hit and also prevents spell casting, sneaking, climbing, running, and swimming.

We ended up with the following roster:

NameProfessionSkillSpecial AbilityHitsEquipment
MiaAnimal magicSmartAnimal friendship3
KinguEarth magicLegendsProtection3
Fo PiFire magicFireball3
NonuruAir magicArcherAir control3Bow and arrows
NataschaWater magicWave, icicle3
BorisWarriorSwordfightingGuard6Heavy armour, sword and shield
RothilionScoutArcherSneaking3Bow and arrows

As you can see, we have a lot of magic users! 😅

I’ll also note that Kingu’s player wanted healing and hiding, too. But it’s a bit much, I feel.

Natascha has two special abilities: the wave spell and the icicle spell. The character learned the second spell during the session.

I think that’s actually an excellent way to handle advancement: Just hand out one kind of improvement to one character per session, if appropriate based on the events during the game. I’ll see whether I can continue doing this. I don’t want to count experience points and we’d still have some sort of advancement for the characters that are playing. This is important to me as I don’t want to advance characters that aren’t playing.

I’m feeling a bit weird about having “being smart” available as a skill. Isn’t that what the players should be doing? I’ll try and handle that as a “6th sense” for dangerous situations, an early warning system.

The same is true for “legends”. The character knows many legends and prophesies. Perhaps I’ll handle that as an invitation to info dump setting material? But then again, I wouldn’t hold back with setting material the characters would know in-game, I think. Weird. Well, we’ll see how it goes.

As you can see, not all characters have their slots filled. It was hard for the kids to pick things. Specially the newbies and young ones didn’t know what to say; often their dad would speak up immediately and offer suggestions, predetermining what their kids would then say. I tried to step in whenever I saw that happening. I’d rather leave things open and let people choose later.

As for the rules, I’m using a simple 2d6 vs 2d6 system. This is unlike the Powered by the Apocalypse games: the referee still gets to roll. I mean, on average the difficulty is simply the average 7 but by rolling 2d6 it can vary wildly. If we roll the same number, I try to introduce a new fact, or change the situation in some non-obvious way. This isn’t always easy in the midst of combat, but I try.

People get a +1 or +2 to their rolls if they can bring their profession, skill or special ability to bear. During the game I didn’t always remember all of these so I fear on a few occasions players only got a +1 when they would have deserved a +2. When I ran the orcs, attacks by ordinary orcs got +0 and attacks by the boss got a +2.

If you win the opposed 2d6, you deal damage. If the difference is small, you deal one hit. If the difference is larger, let’s say three or four, you might deal two hits; more than that and it’s a “special effect” (blown back, injured, taken out, depending on the kind of attack).

In a fight of many against many I used the following rule: whoever wins the opposed roll does damage and picks the next character to attack, thus their side “keeps the initiative” and that means they get to choose who attacks whom. I think it doesn’t really make much of a difference mathematically but it definitely feels different.

At one point the characters were fighting two spectres, later they were fighting ten orcs and an orc leader. Here’s how I did it:

  1. every D&D hit die is a hit they can take
  2. determine their attack bonus (+0, +1, +2)
  3. determine special moves they could make (suck your soul... happily averted)

The notes I took during combat were super simple:

Image 1

Basically the ten ordinary orcs acted as a single ten hit monster with a +0 to attack, the two spectres acted as a single twelve hit monster with a +0 to attack (but with a scary special move if they land a lucky blow).

In this system, if the orcs “have the initiative” they just keep attacking whomever the want until they miss, and at that moment the players keep choosing who gets to attack whom until they miss. Missing automatically means that the other side hit you instead! Of course, the party tries to involve the warrior quite often and I think they picked the earth magic user just once, at the very beginning, to cast their protective spell. I think I’m OK with this; it all gets worked out somehow at the table. People will want to act, but acting also entails the possibility of getting hit.

It often was not clear that magic was super effective in a fight. In D&D, a hit with a fireball kills many weak enemies. But what about a fight with two spectres? I just handled it by appropriate descriptions with little mechanical effect. The fireball hits the spectre as the opposed 2d6 roll is much in favour of the magic user and thus the explosion is big, blowing the spectre back down the stairs into the mausoleum, giving the party a moment to regroup and decide what they’re going to do – in addition to the regular two hits it dealt. We’ll see how that develops. I think I’m OK with fighters being good at fighting and magic users being good at ranged combat and other kinds of tasks. I’ll just have to make sure that there are a lot of challenges that cannot be dealt with by simple fighting.

While we’re at it, I also ruled that being a warrior allowed you to cover an ally every now and then. So when the orcs attacked the water magic user at one point, the warrior said they wanted to cover he and I agreed. Apparently, being a bodyguard is the warrior’s special ability. 😃

As for the setting, I used Hex Describe. I did note some usability issues. I wanted both an HTML export and a Markdown export, but it wasn’t immediately obvious how to do it. When I tried to print the HTML to a PDF file, I realised I had nearly 140 pages of material! 😲

I guess I will use the PDF on my tablet while running the game, and I will paste snippets of the Markdown onto the campaign wiki map as we uncover more and more of the setting. My players probably won’t be reading it and therefore I think I can keep it all in English.


Comments on 2020-03-27 Ancient School Rules

Alex, I’m happy to read this! Ancient school rpg FTW!

Norbert Matausch 2020-03-27 14:04 UTC

Thanks for blogging about it. 👍

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-27 16:57 UTC

Excellent, 2d6 rules!

Wanderer Bill 2020-03-27 17:00 UTC

Re: the “legends” skill: If you are already inviting your group to participate in world building (which is a great thing!), why not have the “legend” skill grant the ability to establish a small fact about the world on the go, once per day? The Burning Wheel RPG has something like that.

E.g.: DM: The bushes around you have berries in all the colors of the rainbow. Player with legend skill: I know from ancient stories that if you eat the berries in the sequence of the rainbow’s colors, you heal your wounds.

K.T. 2020-03-28 07:34 UTC

Good idea. Got to get into the habit of asking players for input. 👍

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-28 11:23 UTC

Is there a PDF version of these rules? I love them but would also love to see some more description, in maybe an easier-to-read format.

Mardov 2020-03-30 01:14 UTC

Not yet. But you can get Norbert G. Matausch’s Landshut Rules as a PDF.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-30 05:10 UTC

I’m happy to be able to read about your game and Norbert’s rules in action - thanks for sharing! @K.T. Fantastic idea, I’ll definitely give it a chance in our next campaign!

Metwiff 2020-03-30 19:06 UTC

For now: Just Halberds. 🙂

Sources are available.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-31 21:09 UTC

So cool and written for beginners and OSR-friends alike... The last page - to me - is most important: whatever the issue - talk about it and have fun! Thanks and regards from my little Cov19-isolation, Metwiff

Metwiff 2020-04-01 11:09 UTC

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2020-03-25 A new campaign

I’m going to start a new campaign with two friends. It’s going to be a remote game. I used to decline such games because I had enough face to face games if I wanted to. But now that the Corona virus pandemic is upon us, there’s not much difference: both of my games are online. DM Peter runs his D&D 5E game via Skype and Roll20, and I run my games via a self-hosted Jitsi server.

So, a new game. They said they wanted something “simple”, like Labyrinth Lord (or possibly my house rules, Halberds & Helmets, of course). They also mentioned the fact that they might want to have their kids join every now and then.

I’m faced with the same problem I’ve had two or three times before: one kid wants to play an elf, or a unicorn. An elf, I say – an elf from The Lord of the Rings? Peter Pan? Elfquest? I ask him to ask the kid. The answer I get back is Mia and me. Wow. I had no idea.

Is this the new party?

Image 1

And here I was, ready to go all “Kill 6 Billion Demons” on my two friends...

This is the other party:

Image 2

But sending these images back and forth gave me an idea. How about I stick to the indie games I like: Dungeon World and friends. Something like the Landshut Rules, ancient school role-playing!

So I decided to offload a bit of the setting creation to my players, and to facilitate the finding of a common “language” and style by asking my players for more pictures, some location names, some names for the opposition, stuff like that. And I think that will be interesting. I’ll draw a little map and add those names, add the opposition, think of some interactions, and I’ll let my self be inspired by the media they like (apparently, travel and adventure blogs) and their kids like (looks like Frozen and possibly Maleficient), and the media I like (some lurid Troika!, Silent Titans, and Kill 6 Billion Demons – just looking at the visuals as I haven’t really read any of them).

Something simple like:

  • every character has one special ability, a skill, and a profession
  • use opposed 2d6 rolls, with bonuses depending on the above
  • if required, everybody has three hits; armour grants one, two or three extra hits
  • bonuses are declared by the referee, possibly followed by a short negotiation

We’ll see how it goes. 😀


Comments on 2020-03-25 A new campaign

Sounds like a nice experiment. Reading Norbert’s blog has made me question/unlearn and a lot of my own assumptions about RPG rules/systems, and the new insights have largely been validated in play-testing (at least in terms of how I like to GM). In particular his Play worlds, not rules series was an eye-opener for me when I read it and I think time is ripe for me to read it again.

– Björn Buckwalter 2020-03-26 09:21 UTC

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2020-03-20 Skype and Roll20

OK, so today I was a player in DM Peter’s game and due to the COVID-19 problem we can no longer meet in person. Peter picked Roll20 and Skype!

We started half an hour early, finding our old Skype accounts; I realized that I didn’t want to install a Microsoft RPM on my GNU/Linux machine; Skype-for-Web complained about my browser (Firefox 68.6.0esr); the phone worked (until it eventually ran out of battery and I had to switch from the iPhone to the iPad, quickly installing the app mid-game...) – in short, the technology was a drag, but eventually it worked.

Roll20 was also tricky to start: Peter wanted to play background music and it was too quiet for some and to loud for others until we discovered that there is a way to change it; we found the settings to make sure no video and audio got sent via Roll20 as we were using Skype; Peter created our characters and we played with the settings allowing us to display only the names for the characters (as we had video elsewhere); how to drag characters onto the map took a moment; how to point to locations took a moment; switching from moving tokens to measuring distances and back took a moment – and I’m sure Peter spent quite some time preparing suitable backgrounds and pictures for the game. During the game, some people figured out how to create macros (mine) and others didn’t, which was weird.

As we played, we all ended up putting on headphones. I used the regular Apple headphones with the integrated microphone and it worked very well.

Peter never got his Skype camera to work, so it was weird to have no DM face: all the players were visible, but the DM was “in our heads”. An interesting experience!

But all in all, it worked. We can work with this. It felt personal. We managed to not talk over each other too often. 👏

But what about Jitsi? Yes, what about the Video Conference server I installed recently? When the game was over, we talked for a bit and I asked them to give it a try, on their laptops. Sadly, the experience wasn’t too smooth:

  1. it worked fine for Peter, including his camera which hadn’t worked with Skype!
  2. the Mac user had to switch from Safari to Firefox
  3. another user had not managed to give the right permission at the very beginning and had to restart the browser in order to get another chance at granting the necessary permissions
  4. another user simply didn’t manage to get it right
  5. We all agreed that it was serviceable but we also felt that the audio quality was slightly worse than Skype

All in all, it was not a great experience. I understand the problem of permissions, and I understand the problems of apps being able to track you where a browser perhaps cannot – but clearly the user experience of these players wasn’t great and we’ll be using Skype and Roll20 again in a week.

What people really liked about Roll20 – and this is something Jitsi alone does not provide, so we’d still have to use some other application for it:

  • the 3D virtual dice for all to see which is something we all liked a lot
  • people liked the background music but I didn’t pay much attention to it
  • people liked the battlemap but I would have preferred to play without it

Roll20 and Skype it is!


Comments on 2020-03-20 Skype and Roll20

I am happy to help troubleshoot the jitsi setup further if you want. UTC -5 over here. Just say the word. I will DM you my (Signal) number in Mastodon.

...at this point we should have done that anyway. 😝

PresGas 2020-03-21 18:22 UTC


– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-21 19:15 UTC

As for Roll20, I’ll note that I hate the user interface. So much stuff to do. So many settings to tweak. It’s slow. I can’t upload any images. Perhaps it’s the browser that’s no longer supported? I don’t know. That makes it hard to set up stuff. I need to set up characters one by one, and assign them to players. I immediately picture all of us trying to figure out how dice rolling, macros, avatar uploads, and so on will work. And thus half an hour is spent dealing with the technology instead of playing the game.


For my own games, I still think Jitsi would be nicer because it’s simple.

Essentially, everything except for audio chat is optional. A camera is cool but when I think back I don’t think I looked at the camera all too often. The Burning Wheel game I played such a long time ago used no camera. I’m still hoping that we can go about rolling our own dice. Just tell us what you rolled. Or point the camera at it! 🙂

That’s how I plan to start, in any case.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-21 20:17 UTC

I used it today with @PresGas and it worked fine over the Atlantic... But we did have a lot of issues:

  • I had not realized that my laptop microphone hat its input level set to practically zero so he couldn’t hear me
  • Once I had that fixed all he could hear was static
  • When we tried a different server, audio worked but video did not
  • I decided to try my external microphone, the browser and Jitsi didn’t know about it and couldn’t access it; I had to restart Firefox such that I was asked for permission to the microphone again and that’s where I could pick the external microphone
  • When video didn’t work I realized that my webcam was listed twice and this permission dialogue is what allowed me to pick the “other” same camera and then it worked

All of this makes me think that it is super important to only grant permissions to the microphone and camera temporarily. That way you will always get asked for permission the next time you use it and you will therefore always be able to pick the correct device.

Later the same day I tried to use Jitsi with the in-laws and apparently their Internet Explorer or Edge or whatever they were using is not supported. So we used FaceTime to call each other and just clicked through the gallery in parallel. How to send them the right link, on the phone or by mail, and do they manage to open the link in their desktop mail client and not their phone client, or do they have to copy the link manually from their phone and type it into their desktop browser address bar... Truly, the populace in general is not computer literate! Anyway... FaceTime worked fine.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-22 16:40 UTC

It was great getting together with you to look things over!! We are about to game ourselves (over Zoom with our University licensing). I think when I take over as GM, we are going to try Jitsi again.

I would still blame IE/Edge for most of that. Remember the days when people only coded websites TO IE only? Now it is the one out in the cold!!


PresGas 2020-03-22 16:52 UTC

Had my Jitsi test with the RPG group and it went well. One player has a desktop with a loud ventilator; he’s going to use his phone; we’re using the laptop at one end of the table and an external microphone between me and Claudia (the one I bought for my podcast a while ago) – that’s far enough from the laptop to not cause an echo, and far enough for the camera to get both of us; the other couple is using a conferencing microphone and they’re both sitting in front of the same laptop, no problem.

I think this is going to work! 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-22 18:58 UTC

Yea!! I am so glad it is working in your favor. Your desktop person may have the machine on the same level as the rest of the gear (perhaps on top of the desk?).

I would suggest that they move it to the floor if that will help and they can do so.

PresGas 2020-03-22 19:31 UTC

I’ve been using Discord + Roll20 for over a year and it’s worked great for audio and whiteboarding/maps.

Recently, I’ve been using awwapp.com for a free whiteboard when I didn’t need all the bells/whistles of Roll20.

I don’t use the video aspect, but if/when I do, I use Hangouts.

Anonymous 2020-03-22 20:18 UTC

Used Roll20 and Skype again. Roll20 on the Laptop, Skype on the iPad, and it worked quite well. Apparently you can only subdivide the Skype window into four panes, so when we had five and six people in our call, you couldn’t really see all of us at the same time. It worked well enough, though.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-23 22:55 UTC

I had mostly good luck with Jitsi in recent days. Using Chrome (or Chromium) seems to be the easiest path, and it lets the user change permissions and input devices in a running call by clicking the info icon at the left of the URL bar.

Paul Gorman 2020-03-28 18:45 UTC

Thanks, Paul. I’ll pass it on! 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-28 18:53 UTC

Great to “see” you, Paul!! 👋 Plan on posting in your blog anytime soon? We miss you!

Glad other people are working out things on jitsi. Are you self hosting there or using one of the central ones?

PresGas 2020-03-29 14:14 UTC

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2020-03-17 Play From Home

So, what do you use to play your role playing games online? I don’t need a battle map. I have experience with Skype from work but don’t know how that would work on my GNU/Linux laptop. I have used Teamspeak ages ago. Is Discord the way to go? I don’t like them, either!

I guess DM Peter is going to pick Roll 20 for our D&D 5E game.

I’m still not sure what I want to use for my own game. I feel that just IRC is not going to work.


Comments on 2020-03-17 Play From Home

I’ve used Jitsi Meet for work meetings and it seems to work nicely enough, though the video feed can sometimes feel a little low-frame-rate. It also has screenshare, in the event that you want to share a map or picture or something.

– reed 2020-03-17 22:36 UTC

Jitsi sounds great!

As for dice rolling, we could all join a dice room on rolz, “special chat rooms designed to facilitate pen&paper roleplaying online, in groups - here you can have joined sessions with other players.”

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-18 07:00 UTC

We nowadays use either TeamSpeak or Discord (dpeending on who’s present). We’re doing it voice only, though.

As for dice rolling, we very much trust each other, so we often just use our own (physical) dice. I sometimes roll on WotC’s dice roller (alternating between the one for D&D the one for Modern d20 based on perceived luck 😀) when I need HP for like 15 enemies or something. One of y players uses a “dice room” (don’t remember which one), so if he’s present we often just roll there as well.

Ynas Midgard 2020-03-18 08:55 UTC

Rolz is nice for rolling, but roll20 also has dice, and the video works on GNU/Linux as well. Plus you get the “maps” which are nice. If I’m using a published map, I can just import it (usually screenshot pdf → png/jpg → drag/drop into roll20). Although that portion is a hassle (especially if I didn’t prepare... oops), roll20 also has a nice fog of war effect so I can progressively reveal the dungeon. You can also share other artwork or handouts this way. Although roll20 does support some character sheets as well as other forms of automation, I basically ignore all this and just track our groups stuff in a google spreadsheet. With this setup, I’m basically down to two panes (at least for player facing material), which I think is quite manageable.

– Smitty 2020-03-18 12:37 UTC

Thanks for the input. I just created a Roll20 account and it looked a bit weird; not sure why, though. Could be ad blockers, could be my use of Firefox. I’ll be using it as a player, soon. As for my own game, however, I wanted something simpler. Jitsi doesn’t even have accounts. That sounds like the right amount of complexity to me. It’ll be interesting to see how DM Peter handles our game on Roll20...

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-18 12:44 UTC

We use Google Hangouts still. I’ve tried Roll20, but it always seem like more than we need.

– Derik 2020-03-18 15:10 UTC

Yeah, we’ll see how it goes.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-18 21:57 UTC

@wandererbill just suggested Aggie.io for collaborative drawing. Very cool.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-19 11:27 UTC

Please do report about your experiences!

– Björn Buckwalter 2020-03-19 19:22 UTC

I will. 😀

The only thing I ever played online was simply using Skype. It was a short game of Burning Wheel, one session zero and six sessions for the small campaign (session reports).

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-19 19:33 UTC

Dominic also likes a simple setup and uses Google Hangouts. I’m surprised it still exists. 😅

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-20 11:09 UTC

Had my first virtual tea via Jitsi with my wife in another room and a friend in the neighbourhood. Got to experiment with phone and laptop, camera and external microphone.

And in three hours then, Skype and Roll20 for DM Peter.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-20 16:03 UTC

2020-03-20 Skype and Roll20.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-03-21 05:45 UTC

Potentially overkill, but has all the bells/whistles if you ever want them: https://www.astraltabletop.com/

– Kristopher Browne 2020-03-25 22:23 UTC

Gonna advocate for Discord here. Good for video chats, but also you can make you own chat servers and store info, character sheets, general chatter there. Also there’s a whole bunch of RPG discords like the OSR discord that generate some interesting discussion and inspiration. Really cool stuff.

Will 2020-03-28 06:42 UTC

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