RPG

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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2017-02-20 Turning Undead

My games no longer have any clerics in them. But back when I had them, they turned undead. How exactly, asked Brett Eliot on Google+.

I ruled that LOS is important. I imagine the holy symbol shining some sort of holy light which hurts the undead. It’s that light which disintegrates them, too. Thus, distance is not a problem, in theory. But the undead can always take cover and so it depends. In a flat desert the army of undead will appear over the horizon and immediately freeze when they see the lone cleric, miles away, turning them. And slowly, in the milky twilight his holy light one zombie after another starts to melt, disintegrate. Do they rush forward, hoping to reach the cleric before all being destroyed, or do they build man shields to protect them, or do they take cover and wait for another day? Clearly, that explains why the undead prefer to exist underground. Less exposure to random holy photons. :)

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2017-02-20 Dungeon Mapping

Noisms recentlz wrote Elementary Principles of Dungeon Drawing and his first point is this: “Snazzy weird shapes and arrangements of rooms look good on paper but in my experience are really hard to explain at the table without ending up with the DM doing lots of drawing, which defeats the purpose of having players do the mapping.”

The longer I run Castle of the Mad Archmage, the more I agree with this assessment.

If I can’t communicate it at the table in a reasonable amount of time, it’s a waste of time.

Check out levels 3 to 5 of Castle of Mad Archmage for an example of what I’m talking about. This is the absolute limit of what I’m willing to communicate to my players.

I get questions by the mapper because they want to get it right and everybody just zones out after “The one in the north western face heads westerly…” it’s not a question of difficulty in describing it. It’s a question of time taken to describe it before the game breaks down.

One could argue about verisimilitude, or how the referee should be drawing maps, or I could just simplify all the maps. After all, it’s a game for all of us to enjoy at the table.

Generally speaking though, I’ve found myself drifting towards node-based dungeon maps. The question of mapping now has a simple answer: draw a beautiful map to represent the nodes and entertain the referee. That’s it.

Back in 2010 I wrote about quality dungeons. Here are some of the points I made regarding the map:

  • Good looking maps. A good looking map appeals to the referee and says “Pick me! Pick me!” Hard to say what this is: an interesting density?
  • Notes on the map itself make it easier to get an overview of the place.
  • Multiple entrances for players to choose from.
  • Multiple exits for referees to append to.
  • A map that suggests multiple goals. Rescue prisoner here, kill boss there, find hidden treasure over there. That adds replayability. That is, the map must have visually distinct areas: prison cells, water ways, treasure chests, large caves, small caves, throne rooms.)
  • A map key that is easy to skim by using bold keywords for monsters and other stuff of prime importance to players.
  • A setup that can be exploited in combat by tactically minded players. A bottleneck, a ledge, a bridge, a fortified position, a sally port.
  • An opportunity to spy on enemies for the stealthily minded players. A murder hole, a grate, a tiny tunnel, a scrying ball.

Recent examples from my own games trying to strike a balance between these points and my free time:

Crown of Neptune Garaskis Monastery Cloud Giants vs. Djinn

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Comments on 2017-02-20 Dungeon Mapping

You have a ZERO WIDTH NO-BREAK SPACE on the end of the “quality dungeons” link that makes it point to a missing page (that the Wiki offers to create for you).

– Derek 2017-02-23 05:22 UTC


Thanks! This is not the first time it happened. I’m not sure who appends these – I suspect it’s something about the G+ app on my phone.

– AlexSchroeder 2017-02-23 05:45 UTC

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2017-01-25 RPG Blogs

Does anybody know how to get an OPML feed from Feedly? How would you share blog subscriptions without OPML? What I did was get the blog titles and wrap it in Google search because I was tired after looking up the correct URLs after the first one. Not ideal at all!

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2017-01-23 Random Encounters

Gavin was wondering about random encounters on Google+. He was wondering about probabilities and said he had noticed that “wandering monsters virtually never come up.”

Yeah, wandering monsters are rare. But they do happen once or twice a session. The effect they have depends on the setup, however. If your players are pressed for time and after two or three hours they need to leave, and thus the dungeon exploration ends, then additional random encounters don’t do much, I think. They sometimes surprise the referee and add some color, that is all. That’s how I run it. I just roll the dice when I’m bored as a minor tax on players taking too long to make decisions or listening and checking for traps all the time.

If you add a severe penalty, as in rolling on a terrible table of tearful results if the party doesn’t make it out in time, then the exciting bit is rolling for random encounters on the way out and hoping for no delays. That’s how I want to run it, but I never rolled on that ominous table and thus perhaps players don’t actually fear it.

If, on the other hand, players stay for as long as they want but they can’t heal or memorize new spells in the dungeon, then the dynamics might change: they try to maximize their stay, pushing resources to the limit, and now avoiding combat with random encounters is even more important. Perhaps that’s how Gary ran his table?

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Comments on 2017-01-23 Random Encounters

Is the term “random encounters” a little misleading? “Rational encounters” maybe? ;-) Just because it is to be expected to run into someone who is going somewhere else from time to time, be it in the wilderness or in the dungeon or in a castle. A total static dungeon makes even less sense than it does make anyway; apart from an empty tomb, maybe. Just a random thought.

Rorschachhamster 2017-01-24 10:30 UTC


Well, we’re using established jargon, here. Random encounters or wandering monsters is what it is. Just a wandering conjecture… ? :-D

– Alex Schroeder 2017-01-24 12:10 UTC

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2017-01-20 Traits

Sometimes I think I don’t actually want to bring skills to the table but I want to bring those King Arthur Pendragon traits to the character, using a d20 or 2d6 or something.

Assume we wanted to see whether a character would watch over a city gate for two days. Instead of making a focus skill check, you make a trait check to see whether your character is energetic or lazy.

If you don’t know: King Arthur Pendragon 1st ed. is free on RPGNow until the end of the month, apparently. Each character has a variety of opposing traits such as chaste vs. lustful, energetic vs. lazy, forgiving vs. vengeful, etc. The point is that your character might not act the way you want them to and I like that. The two opposing traits always add up to 20.

chaste ↔ lustful
energetic ↔ lazy
forgiving ↔ vengeful
generous ↔ selfish
honest ↔ deceitful
just ↔ arbitrary
merciful ↔ cruel
modest ↔ proud
pious ↔ worldly
prudent ↔ reckless
temperate ↔ indulgent
trusting ↔ suspicious
valorous ↔ cowardly

So say we have energetic 13 and lazy 7. You want the character to stand guard for two days. Let’s have an energetic test: If you roll 1–12, you succeed. If you roll 13, you have a critical success. If you roll higher, you fail. Failing this check might mean that the characters started nodding off, or got distracted. They weren’t energetic enough.

In some cases, you might want to determine whether the character does the exact opposite of what the player wants. In these situations, make an involuntary check of the opposite trait. In this case, a lazy check: if you roll 1–6, the character is lazy. On a 7, critically so. If the characters were actively lazy, they probably retired to a nearby tavern and decided to keep an eye on the gate by peeping out the window every now and then. On a critical lazy result, they’re probably drunk and crawling around on the tavern floor.

If characters fail both checks, the player gets to decide. Since players get to decide if they succeed the first check (since this is what they wanted the character to do) and if they fail the second check, characters actively disobeying players doesn’t happen too often.

On important occasions, the referee might decide that an action was worth a “check”. A check means that at the end of the session, players roll a d20 and if they beat the existing score, it goes up (with 19 being the upper limit). In a D&D game, you might want to do this immediately, but at most once per session, or upon gaining a level (but that might be very long off).

If all players start with traits around 7–13, a trait of 16 or higher would mean that they are famous for being generous, lazy, lustful, or whatever.

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Comments on 2017-01-20 Traits

This adapts well to the basic Dungeons and Dragons method of rolling 3d6 to determine the attribute. I now have this nagging desire to come up with an excuse to have players “save versus laziness”.

This is a nice way to handle the case where a player is recklessly running down a slick stone stair with bow drawn, where you perhaps don’t want to hand wave away the danger entirely, but a simple test with terrible consequences for failure is certain to inspire player resentment as excessively harsh. Having once had such a case and the argument that followed it, how nice to think I might have handled it more Pendragonishly:

  1. Roll dexterity check to make it down stairs without incident, on critical success maybe the closed door at the foot of the stair pops open, surprising the monster a round earlier
  2. If the dexterity check fails, I think it might have been a 16, the player then rolls a clumsiness test against their derived clumsiness score of 4, with 1-3 indicating fall prone and 4 indicating the player takes 1d6 damage from a sprain or minor self-inflicted wound.

Thank you for the inspiration!

– Kit 2017-01-20 12:36 UTC


Hm, it’s tricky. Roger GS writes in one of the G+ comments: “The difference between knowing your character died because you pushed your luck, and that he died because a die roll caused him to push his luck, is pretty strong.” I think one would have to watch out for this. I wouldn’t want these traits to play as strong a role as a saving throw. I like the surprise of a character doing this or that but I wouldn’t want the character to make life or death decisions based on these traits.

– Alex Schroeder 2017-01-21 12:46 UTC

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2017-01-11 Actual Scribbles

If you are in the circles of +John Bell on Google+, you might have seen his invite link to the OSR Discord channel. Discord is sort of like Slack with voice chat (it should be getting videochat soon).

So, it’s a bit like IRC, but better. :)

I talked with +C Huth and +James Young. I started talking about Gridmapper. It allows you to create nice dungeon maps. But I don’t use it much.

I guess my adventures are simply not so dungeon based, or they’re based on a dungeon with an existing map. For my own adventures, I’m more of a simple graph person.

Wilderness With Druid

This is a good example for a low-prep session. I might then map that to the existing hex map (you can see the hex coordinates on my notes). But recently the party visited the tower of the most powerful magic-user in the area and it was all “stairs… hallway… zombies… grand hall… bla bla” and no map required and I had none ready.

Drow Fortress

This a bigger map of some drow outpost which I used in that old adventure about Lloth and compared to what was actually used at the table, it was too complex. Almost none of it got used.

I've been thinking about using integration with a graph-generating library, see Mermaid. I guess flowcharts could be used? But is this text-based entry good enough? Are the graphs useful enough? I don’t know.

The notes for our games look a lot messier than what Gridmapper would produce. But if you want to publish something, I’d say that Gridmapper is ideal because it’s a quick, painless, clean, high resolution image of your dungeon map. I’m thinking of One Page Dungeons. I liked them better when they felt like they were something I could have produced, even if I didn’t. Looking at the very polished entries make my heart ache and my fingers tremble, and I think about quitting and just focusing on gardening instead of game prep.

I remember reading about the system an author of a mega dungeon used. Too bad I can’t find a link to the blog post. It was a Perl script which interpreted line drawing instructions. I read that and thought: there must be a tool for those of us that don’t want to polish their map drawing skills. Gridmapper was to be that tool.

But then again, polished maps are overrated. They’re good if you want to publish something, but our own maps look very different.

I feel like there’s too much focus on publishing and not enough normal referees sharing what their hastily sketched homemade stuff actually looks like. A new referee looks at maps in modules or entries in the One Page Dungeon Contest and cries instead of looking at your prep or my prep, laughing out loud and thinking I can do that!!

I want to see the notes you scribbled last night right before people started ringing at the front door. The raw notes where you don’t want to write down stuff that’s obvious because it’ll take as much time to invent it later as it will take you to write it now and read it later. Who cares about the “rough-hewn flagstones”. Nobody.

I want to see your scribbled notes!

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2017-01-07 Normal Men

If your players can hire retainers, how do you handle it? I used a d30 list of candidates. Some of these were “normal men” – people who didn’t want to fight: porters, torchbearers, horse handlers and the like. Thus, when people wanted to hire some people, I had them roll 1d6 for the number of people to show up at the tavern at the beginning of the session, and I had them roll a d30 for as many times, read them the entry from my list, promised myself to replace that entry at some point, and then tried to figure out what stats to give these people.

Over the last few sessions, however, I’ve noticed a different trend: I simply have a large stack of printed, computer generated pre-generated characters and if players looked for new candidates to hire, they rolled a d6 and pulled as many characters from the stack. Instant details, including funny faces, equipment, spells, and all that.

I wrote the generator and so generating twenty or thirty characters is no problem at all. I ended up extending the generator whenever I joined a new game, so for the moment it is most useful for B/X (the default), Labyrinth Lord (the prices differ a bit), and Halberds & Helmets (my house rules). There’s even some ACKS support in there, but it is severely lacking, sadly. Encoding the feats has proven to be supper annoying and I no longer play in an ACKS campaign. If you don’t like it, there’s Ramanan's character generator with support for Basic D&D (the one I linked to), 1974 D&D, Holmes D&D and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and campaign specific characters for Pahvelorn, Apolyon, and Carcosa. Check out the footer for links!

Using pre-generated player characters turned out to be very popular, where as using “normal men” was fraught with problems. Do they gain XP? After I while I decided that they do. Can they gain a level? After a while I said yes of course, but obviously only classes suitable for humans. But when? When they gained 100XP. Do they get a share of the treasure? At one point I had the following rule, trying to limit the bookkeeping of minute XP amounts: they needed to gain 100 XP in one go by being part of a fight with monsters where every single participant got 100 XP or more. This made sure that those “normal men” only gained a level when fighting manticores or similarly traumatic events.

And yet… It was too damn complicated for me, and none of my players cared.

That’s why I’m going to drop the d30 table of candidates and replace the section in my player handbook with a note saying that the referee will have some character sheets prepared.

And finally, if my players don’t want to share treasure and XP with retainers, then they should buy war dogs instead. Pets are better than “normal men” with all the rules baggage.

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Comments on 2017-01-07 Normal Men

I quite like your conclusions. I have been thinking for some time of printing cards with NPCs, treasure, monsters… Heroquest-style, to use at the table.

– Enzo 2017-01-11 17:30 UTC


Do it, and share it. :)

– AlexSchroeder 2017-01-12 15:46 UTC

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2016-12-22 Mass Combat, Again

A few weeks ago, I wrote about mass combat rules. Yesterday, I had a fight of the party plus 45 light infantry and 8 war dogs against Lord Baba and his 40 thieves. I wanted to use mass combat rules because last session the party was fighting werewolves and real wolves with the aid of a dozen zombies and it had turned into a lot of dice rolling. At the same time, I didn’t want to use something like An Echo Resounding because I didn’t have units of about 100 each. Thus, I fell back on the old M20 Mass Combat rules I had available. But I wanted to make it simpler. The M20 rules still have a problem: Every damage roll is multiplied by the combat scale of the attacker, divided by the combat scale of the defender, and rounded down. So, I tried a slightly different approach.

Group combatants into units as you like. We had three players and me at the table, so each one played their characters, and a single unit. One had all the war dogs, one had 25 infantry, the other had 20 infantry, and I had 40 thieves, and they all had their player characters and I had my non-player character.

Compute total hit-points for all units. Just multiply the average hit-points with the number of individuals. 40 thieves means 40×3.5=140, 20 infantry means 20×4.5=90, 8 war dogs means 8×11=88.

Combat starts as usual. Roll for initiative, move, attack, and so on. AC, movement rate, morale and saves don’t change.

Damage dealt is multiplied by the combat scale. This models how in larger skirmishes not everybody gets to attack. There are corridors, corners, trees, cover, the press of bodies, whatever. Knowing this table, it makes sense to divide units in particular ways. Thus, we changed the split of infantry units from 20/25 to 21/24 so that both units got a ×6 combat scale for their first attack.

Number Scale
2-5×3
6-10×4
11-20×5
21-40×6
41-80×7
81-160×8
161-320×9
321-640×10

When you're hit, adjust your combat scale. Divide the remaining hit-points by the average hit-points per individual and round up to see how many are still alive. For example, if the thieves have 53 hit-points left, then we still have 53/3.5≈16 thieves (rounding up). The original combat scale of 40 thieves was ×6, but 16 thieves have a combat scale of ×5.

Player characters can “hide” within a unit, granting them their charisma bonus for morale checks. When the unit takes damage, the player and non-player characters are the last ones to actually take damage. All these characters attack as usual, with separate attack rolls and separate spell casting actions.

Spells works as they usually do. We had some sleep spells cast, for example. No problem.

Every unit must make a morale check when it looses its first member, and another when it loses half its members. This is important! Such a unit is considered broken. They will hunker down and disengage. This happened to one of the units following the thieves into their hideout.

A player or non-player character within a broken unit may attempt to rally the unit. Only one character per round may try this. If this succeeds, the unit will have skipped a round, no problem. The unit commander in our game managed to pull this off.

If a broken unit suffers any damage, it will rout. A routed unit must flee the battle field and any other unit in melee range will get a free extra attack with a +2 bonus.

Those were all the rules we needed.

It solved my main requirements:

  • less math, no tables
  • no units of roughly equal size
  • player characters can still act

It still required a calculator to determine the numbers lost after every hit.

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Comments on 2016-12-22 Mass Combat, Again

I guess the original system was “better” in that you had to deal at least as much damage as the enemy’s combat scale in order to deal any damage at all, which makes splitting up your side into units of 1 very inefficient. But how inefficient? Is there an optimum? Do we care?

I think the aspect of splitting up each side into an acceptable number of units is the one were much is decided and these rules I wrote up will not help you. If you need an “reason” for people not to split their side up into units of one each other than you’ll laugh in their face and refuse to play along, then perhaps “having to deal at least as much damage as the opponent’s combat scale” is actually what you need to do. It also means that individually, player characters will eventually stop making a difference because they’re essentially “units of one individual each”. That’s a drawback I’m not willing to incur. I’d rather have a discussion about reasonable unit size at the table before mass combat starts and that’s that. So there you have it.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-12-22 17:17 UTC


I like my own rules so much, I added them to my Referee Guide. :)

You can download Referee Guide from Github.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-12-25 22:28 UTC

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2016-10-28 Classifying Treasure and Number Appearing

I’m still working on my Monster Manual. Up to dragon! Until now, I just wrote whatever I felt like into the treasure line. For giant apes, for example, I wrote the following:

Treasure: When encountered in a ruined temple, they might have collected some shiny stuff. 20% for 1d4x1000 silver, 30% for 1d6×1000 gold, 10% for 1d6×100 platinum, 10% for 1d6 gems, 10% for 1d6 jewelry.

Basically I as myself some question:

  1. is going to steal from common people? → more silver
  2. is it going to steal from rich people? → more gold
  3. is connected to ancient empires or elves? → more platinum
  4. super rich stuff? → more gems
  5. ostentatious stuff? → more jewelry

At the same time, I wonder about numbers appearing. For bugbears, I wrote:

Numbers: 1d12. Typically you will encounter a small Commando or scouts. Where they are found, their elven masters are not far behind. If they are not in the service of anybody, they are elusive and hard to find.

But for dwarves, this will have to be more complicated, however. Perhaps I can use a table like the following for all people but vary the die? A sort of classification of numbers appearing… Something like: bugbears use 1d4, gnomes use 1d4+1, halflings use 1d4+2, bandits use 1d6, elves use 1d6, humans use 1d8.

  1. Lone scout
  2. Scout party (1d4+1)
  3. Encampment (2d6)
  4. War Party (3d10)
  5. Hamlet or keep (5d6)
  6. Village or castle (5d8)
  7. Town and tower (3d6x10)
  8. Large town and castle (5d6x10)

I’m still unsure of where I want to go with this. I guess the two tables should be related? Dwarves in a city have a triple A treasure, a war party probably only has a bit (or 24% for coming back with lots of loot?), a lone scout has nothing, right? That’s the part in the traditional monster manuals where they say you should adjust treasure and take into account the number of creatures encountered. I want it codified!

Discussion on Google+, or here. :)

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Comments on 2016-10-28 Classifying Treasure and Number Appearing

I started drawing up a lot of tables until I discovered that I actually don’t want to roll on three or four tables in order to figure out whether the party runs into a small group of scouts, a war band, or whether it discovers a settlement. It’s too much work. So I think I’m going to fall back on typical Labyrinth Lord numbers. Maybe write a suggestion for what larger settlements would entail.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-29 01:59 UTC

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2016-10-18 Sandbox Link

An excellen introduction to the Sandbox at Raven Crowking’s Nest. I has a number of links, starting with what is great about the Sandbox and discussing the rules that enable it, and the rules that thwart it.

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