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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2017-01-11 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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2016-10-15 Common House Rules

Dave Baymiller presents his house rules for common situations on Google+ and asks for how we do this. Here’s what I said:

Climbing: anybody can climb without armor if there are good handholds. Otherwise, only thieves using their thieving ability (I use 1d6 with numbers similar to Hear Noise).

Disguises: anybody can disguise themselves. The particular situations he listed have never come up in my game, so no rulings. I’d probably simply use a Reaction Check. Neutral = Suspicious. Positive = They fall for it.

Interrogation: we just talk at the table for a bit, no dice rolling. If trust is required, I let them make a Reaction Check. Positive = they trust you to help them out and are ready to make deals.

Languages: the common tongue for anybody, a few basic words for elves and dwarves as per the book, an extra language per Int bonus, to be picked whenever it’s convenient. A kind of Schrödinger language slots: you don’t know which languages the character knows until you look. :)

Swimming: anybody can swim without armor. With armor, save vs. death every round or drown.

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!

Scars: I use a Death & Dismemberment table with limb loss and one particular entry that has the loss of eyes, ears, nose, teeth… We don’t have simple scars.

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2016-10-08 Monster List

Sometimes I wonder about writing and illustrating my own monster manual. Basically for Halberds and Helmets – I don’t really need it for anything. When I run my game, I usually refer to the Labyrinth Lord monster list and if that doesn’t help, I’ll get up and get the Advanced Edition Companion (which only ever helps for a handful of creatures) from the shelf, or rarer still, the Rules Cyclopedia. By then I usually notice that I lost focus and the game is dragging, so I try to stop doing that.

What I need, I think, is my own monster list, my own illustrations, my own treasure tables, and so on. Something specific to my campaigns.

One place to start looking would be M20 Hard Core where I tried to simplify monsters and their damage is always d6 based (sometimes multiple dice).

So, looking at the Labyrinth Lord monster list…

  • Ant, Giant. Boring; who needs them? Use giant bees instead? Formians for Planescape?
  • Ape, Albino Ape, Giant. Yes please, excellent guards for hobgoblins and others.
  • Baboon, Higher. Just use more albino apes?
  • Basilisk. Definitely, an interesting solo monsters early in the game.
  • Bat. Boring. When have they ever been anything but a nuisance? And how do giant bats even fight a party in the dungeon?
  • Bear. Yes please. Remember I wrote some spells for bear magic, Ursomancy. Also, war bears used by dwarves.
  • Bee, Giant Killer. Yes please, interesting wilderness encounters and mission generators for low level parties. Maybe this can handle giant ants and giant wasps.
  • Beetle, Giant. Yes please, tough dungeon encounters for low level parties
  • Black Pudding. I don’t know, sounds more like a trap to me?
  • Blink Dog. Blinking makes for a frustrating fight and they’re lawful so most parties won’t fight them?
  • Boar. I don’t know. Maybe. Perhaps we need more halflings and dwarves riding on boars and goats. I guess we need goats, too?
  • Bugbear. Definitely. Evil sneaky bastards, yes please!
  • Camel. I don’t know. For a desert game instead of horses? Or just use horse stats instead? They seem to be a bit slower and do a bit less damage than riding horses. Using horse stats seems reasonable.
  • Carcass Creeper. Definitely. Eight paralyzingly attacks is a classic.
  • Cat, Large. Yeah, why not.
  • Centaur. I never used them, but they’re a classic.
  • Centipede, Giant. I used them countless times.
  • Chimera. I’ve never used them but I think I need Greek myth represented.
  • Cockatrice. A classic. But… It’s the same as the basilisk! “The cockatrice hight Basiliscus in Greek, and Regulus in Latin” says Bartholomaeus Anglicus [1]
  • Crab, Giant. Yes please!
  • Crocodile. Yeah. Also, useful as dinosaur stand-ins.
  • Cyclops. I like Greek myth. Then again, why not just use giants?
  • Demon Boar. Best boar ever. Maybe a general demon to fight? Actually, just one of the boar variants.
  • Doppelgänger. Classic.
  • Dragon. Classic! Sleeping dragons, surrendering dragons, spell-casting dragons, dragon age… I don’t know. Just use the dragon stats as is and you’re good.
  • Dragon Turtle. I used it once, but not as a classic monster. Talk to this mountain or die, basically…
  • Dryad. They can’t move away from their tree. I don’t know whether that makes them useful monsters?
  • Dwarf. Of course.
  • Efreeti. As I said above, yes please.
  • Elemental. As I said above, replace them all with genies. This also makes the spell conjure elemental much more interesting. The division into three kinds of elementals based on whether you used a staff, or another magic item, or a spell, is useless.
  • Elephant. I never used it. Have you? But perhaps… But does keeping the elephant mean I should also keep the camel?
  • Elf. Of course. Maybe have more of them in the wilderness? I guess in general I think I need to have numbers for patrols and settlements. A group of 2d12 elves sounds cool. No towns larger than 24 is strange… Perhaps that just needs an adjustment for my campaign. Or perhaps I’m simply wrong and 24 elves is good enough?
  • Ettin. Another classic.
  • Ferret, Giant. I don’t think I ever used it. Another riding animal for halflings and dwarves like the boards? Perhaps… Then again, who cares about the differences between giant ferrets and giant weasels? Weasels it is!
  • Fish, Giant. I never used them. Underwater adventures usually don’t involve fish in my game.
  • Fly, Giant Carnivorous. Just use giant killer bees?
  • Gargoyle. A classic.
  • Gelatinous Cube. Sounds more like a trap, if you ask me. They show up often enough in my games, but as a monster, they’re actually boring.
  • Ghoul. Classic! Elves being immune to their paralysis is weird, though. Where does that come from?
  • Giant. Yes please! I like simple hill giants shepherds, weird stone giants magic users, ferocious fire giants smiths and warriors, and classic mythic frost giants. I think cloud and storm giants are a bit lame, but cloud giants are the lamest. Also, sometimes I want norse mythology giants. How does that work? Or is any creature from 15 HD upwards practically semi-divine in D&D terms?
  • Gnoll. I don’t know where hyena men come from but now that they have arrived in my game, I like them.
  • Gnome. I like them as sillier intelligent encounters. I like my gnomes with long red hats. Does that mean I need giant badgers?
  • Goblin. I don’t know. I liked the Pathfinder goblins. But do I need goblins to be different from orcs? Maybe not.
  • Golem. Yes! But what kind of golem? I think I keep using golems stats for all kinds of artificial monsters. Looking at the Labyrinth Lord golems, I think I have no use for amber golems and I wonder about those huge bronze golems filled with molten metal. But OK, why not.
  • Gorgon. I was always confused (and not alone) about the Gorgon. Wow, I just fixed a reference on Wikipedia for Gorgon!
  • Gray Ooze. I don’t know. All these slimes and oozes. Are they interesting as monsters? I used a gray ooze as a trap. It’s always funny when I reply to a question about the environment with “the room looks super clean… as if somebody had licked it clean, in fact.” But as I said above, it feels like a trap and the exact AC and HD and all that don’t really seem to matter much.
  • Gray Worm. Is this a Dune sand worm? I don’t know. But I like worms.
  • Green Slime. Another trap.
  • Griffon Gryphon. Another mount or pet. Perhaps these need to be in a separate category. (Googling for “gryphon” gives me the right images, googling for “griffon” gives me dogs, so gryphon it is.)
  • Halfling. Yes!
  • Harpy. Another Greek classic.
  • Hawk. Useless? Is this for the one time the party gets shrunk to mouse size? Or as a pet? What about crows? Owls?
  • Hellhound. I need those for the fire giants.
  • Herd Animals. Use horses and you’re good to go.
  • Hippogriff. Another Greek classic. Or is it? The Wikipedia disagrees and mentions that the Greeks knew a similar creature named Hippalektryon. Who cares about their hunger for Pegasus meat.
  • Hobgoblin. I like well organized humanoids. Too bad they have practically no visuals to recommend them. Large goblins are orcs? Elite orcs?
  • Horse. We definitely need a list of pets and mounts.
  • Hydra. A classic.
  • Insect Swarm. An interesting fight for low level characters. But I still prefer giant bees (or wasps).
  • Invisible Stalker. There’s a spell that goes along with it and I like it.
  • Jinni. Classic! I want the other genies, too. Efreeti, Dao and Marid. But sometimes I feel that they should replace elementals entirely. Elementals are boring. Actually I only ever used air and fire genies.
  • Kobold. I like dog men. I like fairies. But little lizard people? I don’t know. So we have kobolds and lizard men, goblins and orcs, halflings and humans… It’s a bit weird.
  • Leech, Giant Giant Psychic Lamprey. Definitely!
  • Lizard, Giant. Maybe one, as a mount?
  • Lizardfolk Lizard People. Sure! I keep using them.
  • Locust, Subterranean. I never used it.
  • Lycanthrope. A classic! I usually limit myself to werewolves, though.
  • Manticore. A classic. Yes!
  • Mastodon. Perhaps if you want a stone age game? Wolf Packs and Winter Snow, for example.
  • Medusa. Greek myth classic!
  • Men Human. Do we really need the subtypes? Perhaps we need a bit more about the various groups we can encounter in the wilderness. Or this: roll 1d100×10 for size (or use the gem table?); make a reaction check without modifier: negative = bandits, raiding party, marauding mercenaries or robber knight; neutral = a community fallen on hard times, eager for cash; positive = a mill, a guest house, a trading post, a village, then apply reaction bonus and see how they react to the party.
  • Merfolk. Underwater adventures don’t need merfolk.
  • Minotaur. Greek classic. Also a good potential class for new player characters?
  • Morlock. Underground men?
  • Mule. Horse?
  • Mummy. A classic. The mummy rot is usually lame in my games, though. So perhaps we need to add some more punch to mummies?
  • Neanderthal. No stone age stuff.
  • Nixie. I like.
  • Ochre Jelly. Trap.
  • Octopus, Giant. Yes! Then again, I like the giant squid stats better and there only needs to be one creature with a lot of attacks.
  • Ogre. A classic brute.
  • Orc. My pig men!
  • Owl Bear. It’s very D&D but then again, I think bears are good enough.
  • Pegasus. More pets and mounts.
  • Phase Tiger. It’s weird. Forget about the blink dog enmity.
  • Pixie. Yes.
  • Pterodactyl. I have never used dinosaurs in my game.
  • Purple Worm. This is the near divine sand worm, perhaps? My current thinking is that HD 15 and above indicates some sort of divinity or natural force. The Labyrinth Lord entry says the worm is 100’ long or more. The Wikipedia entry says: “Sandworms grow to hundreds of meters in length, with specimens observed over 400 meters (1,312 ft) long and 40 meters (131 ft) in diameter”. I don’t know. Perhaps we should keep them but change them to sand worms. Or perhaps sand worms should be a setting specific thing and since they don’t appear in my game, I can just leave them off.
  • Rat. Who fights rats? It’s lame.
  • Rhagodessa, Giant. It’s a giant spider and it should be listed under spiders.
  • Rhinoceros. Unless we have rhino riding giants?
  • Roc. I’ve never used it and if I did, I wouldn’t have people fight them. HD 36? That’s divine levels.
  • Rot Grub. It’s a trap.
  • Rust Monster. It’s a trap.
  • Salamander. I don’t know about frost salamanders but flame salamanders show up in my games all the time.
  • Scorpion, Giant. Yes please!
  • Sea Serpent. I used a plesiosaur in a game of mine but I should have used sea serpents instead.
  • Shadow. Yes! Two dimensional beings are great and need to be used more often.
  • Shark. The only fish you need for your underwater adventure. Die, bone fish, die!
  • Shrew, Giant. More rats? No thank you.
  • Shrieker. A random encounter generator? Sounds like a trap to me.
  • Skeleton. Yes.
  • Snake. I usually just need the Giant Python, Conan style.
  • Spectre. Nazgûl. Cool!
  • Sprite. Another name for pixies?
  • Squid, Giant. It has better stats than the giant octopus. Who wants to roll 1d3 when they could be rolling 1d4 instead?
  • Statue, Animate. Is that the same as robots? As golems? I’m conflicted.
  • Stegosaurus. No dinosaurs.
  • Stirge. A classic.
  • Throghrin. Never used it.
  • Titanothere. No stone age rhinos.
  • Toad, Giant. Yes please.
  • Treant. Ents. Cool!
  • Triceratops. No dinosaurs.
  • Troglodyte. What are these, evil cave frog men?
  • Troll. My favorite. Guarding “guardians of places of transition: bridges, mountain passes, magical gates,” as Brian puts it.
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex. No dinosaurs.
  • Unicorn. As a pet or mount? OK.
  • Vampire. The best!
  • Weasel, Giant. Another pet or mount option.
  • Whale. Who fights whales? Is this a sick whaler RPG? No!
  • Wight. Yes, I want barrow wights!
  • Wolf. Absolutely. And dire wolves or worgs, too.
  • Wraith. More undead stuff, yay.
  • Wyvern. Why have small poisonous dragons when you can have real dragons?
  • Yellow Mold. Yet another trap.
  • Zombie. Yes of course.

OK, so with that I have a list of monsters to illustrate and practice my iPad pen, haha. I’ll be adding these to Google+ while I work on them and then, when I’m ready, I’ll do my monster manual.

I think I also have to add some demons and devils to this monster manual but we’ll see about that.

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Comments on 2016-10-08 Monster List

Oh goody! Now we can disagree about something meaningful and important!

For me, as I mentioned on G+, what made a creature for me was the art I saw about it, or it’s excellent use in a story or movie. So for a lot of these, I can point to a particular piece of art that really made these cool to my eyes:

Elephants - I use ‘em all the time. They let the PCs know that they’re not in Kansas (or generic-replica-of-medieval-Wester-Europe-#846). Also: https://thevelvetrocket.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/frank_frazetta_the_mammoth.jpg

Ferret, Giant - mounts? Oh, hell yes! https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/d8/b2/90/d8b2909c633c966e08d9dd38d671161a.jpg

Goblins - there’s a great pic of a swarm of goblins carrying wicked-looking hammers in Alan Lee’s Castles book. (Can’t find a link, alas.) Since then, goblins have been my Underdark budget smiths, mass-producing cheap weapons for every dark wizard’s slave army. When they weren’t these guys: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/9b/3b/69/9b3b691e6db380b3316e2382bcce069b.jpg

Hawk - they make awesome pets, lending an air of aristocracy to the owner: http://s3.amazonaws.com/auteurs_production/images/film/ladyhawke/w1280/ladyhawke.jpg

Hippogriff - everyone with a pegasus mount cares about a hippogriff’s love of pegasus meat.

Hobgoblin - was always meh on these guys until I saw di Terlizzi’s take: http://diterlizzi.com/home/wp-content/gallery/games/1993_hobgoblin.jpg

Lycanthrope - I mostly limited myself to werewolves as well, until I saw this by Elmore: http://www.larryelmore.com/core/imgs/prints/DND-ENDLESSQUEST-RETURN-TO-BROOKMERE.jpg

Roc - not for fighting, but rather to pick up the PCs’ trireme and flying it across the sea. Also, epic mounts for giants.

Very much looking forward to seeing your take on the critters that made your cut. :D

Brian 2016-10-08 20:36 UTC


Oh, and almost forgot, you said, “…and I wonder about those huge bronze golems filled with molten metal.”

Have you seriously never seen this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxA3wFYxUB8

Brian 2016-10-08 20:39 UTC


Yes, sadly I have not seen a single Harryhausen movie! :)

Your links to art samples make a good point. I’m not sure the hawk needs stats but you are right about the nobility of keeping birds of prey!

Perhaps I should use more elephants… I love that mammoth (?) pic.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-08 21:07 UTC


Regarding ghoul paralysis, as I’ve heard it explained, a ghoul’s touch paralyzes because it is the touch of the grave. It is a psychological effect rather than physiological one. The victim of a ghoul’s touch can’t move, they see their loved ones about them mourning, they see the coffin lid close, they hear the dirt hitting the lid, they feel the worms & beetles burrowing into their flesh and no one can hear their screams. With that in mind, elves are extremely long lived, if not immortal, so the grave holds lesser fear for them than it does for more mortal races.

– Steve 2016-10-08 23:20 UTC


Oh wow, interesting! I had not heard of that before. Definitely an image I must use. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-09 07:24 UTC


Moving the entries I have into a separate Referee Guide PDF.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-16 11:18 UTC


Martin Kallies wrote The Monster in its natural habitat, “the most useful presentation of a monster is something that inspires encounters and adventures based around the creature” – and I agree. But then he goes on that he wants art to show “the creatures in action, in a context that suggests situations to steal for my own campaign” and I’m not so sure about that. Not only am I sadly unqualified to produce the necessary art, but I also don’t study the images carefully. I fear an action shot would provide input for a tactical setup: darkness, ledges, two dogs, snow, moon, lake side, campfire… I don’t know. Those are not the things I’m looking for. I’m looking for “these are the spells the Jinn will teach you” and “orcs will use boars to guard their villages”. I think the focus is not on the scene but on the background. I don’t care about Modron military organization, but I do care about a typical unit my party would encounter, and I’d love to hear what they might be thinking and saying. Are the bugbears willing scouts of the dark elves? Apparently they are!

– Alex Schroeder 2016-10-24 17:23 UTC


Collecting the monster manual entries on Google+ using a hash tag. My Drawing G+ Collection.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-11-10 09:29 UTC

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2016-09-23 RPG Modules and LaTeX

I just saw an impressive LaTeX class for B/X adventures in a private share on Google+.

I’ve been using a different, much simpler class by +Peter Fröhlich, latex-bx.

Sadly, I didn’t get far with Raising a God.

I’m not even sure I want “a tool for authors to typeset RPG modules in a style reminiscent of the old-school adventures of the 1980s” – I like the Tufte class I’ve used elsewhere, eg. Halberds-and-Helmets.pdf.

But there are probably many ideas worth stealing in there. For example, all the stats of all the B/X monsters. Then again, I might as well go back to writing some more instead of tinkering with the tools.

But now that I’m trying to install a new class, I’m running into problems with my LaTeX installation.

alex@Megabombus:~$ tlmgr update --list
Unknown directive ...containerchecksum c59200574a316416a23695c258edf3a32531fbda43ccdc09360ee105c3f07f9fb77df17c4ba4c2ea4f3a5ea6667e064b51e3d8c2fe6c984ba3e71b4e32716955... , please fix it! at /usr/local/texlive/2014/tlpkg/TeXLive/TLPOBJ.pm line 210, <$retfh> line 5579.

I need to get the latest TeX installed. And since I’m really into Homebrew:

alex@Megabombus:~$ brew search texlive
Installing TeX from source is weird and gross, requires a lot of patches,
and only builds 32-bit (and thus can't use Homebrew dependencies)

We recommend using a MacTeX distribution: https://www.tug.org/mactex/

You can install it with Homebrew Cask:
  brew cask install mactex
alex@Megabombus:~$ brew cask install mactex
==> Downloading http://mirror.ctan.org/systems/mac/mactex/mactex-20160603.pkg
######################################################################## 100,0%
==> Verifying checksum for Cask mactex
==> Running installer for mactex; your password may be necessary.
==> Package installers may write to any location; options such as --appdir are ignored.
Password:

Later, run TeX Live Utility and select Update All Packages. All of this will take a long time.

And finally, you probably want to trash the older installations?

alex@Megabombus:~$ du -sh /usr/local/texlive/*
4,2G	/usr/local/texlive/2013
4,5G	/usr/local/texlive/2014
4,7G	/usr/local/texlive/2016
584K	/usr/local/texlive/texmf-local

The key to installing extra packages on a Mac is finding the right directory:

alex@Megabombus:~$ cd Library/texmf/tex/latex/
alex@Megabombus:~/Library/texmf/tex/latex$ unzip /Users/alex/Downloads/rpg-module.zip 
...

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2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

I’ve blogged quite a bit about running a Sandbox, and I’ve added my Swiss Referee Style Manual to my house rule document, Halberds and Helmets, which also has some points on how I run my sandbox. And yet, perhaps the author of the Sandboxes and Quagmires blogpost is right: we should also talk about failure modes and how to prevent them. +Ed Ortiz mentions the following problems:

  1. players monopolizing the plot, or more generally:
  2. players competing for plot
  3. players paralyzed by too much choice, or maybe
  4. players unable to choose for lack of information
  5. players mistaking a sandbox for laissez faire

What works at my table:

Clearly establish which plot elements belong to which character. This is how we make sure that plot time is distributed fairly even though many players have a thing going. It sounds weird, but saying it at the table makes it easier for people to make fair decisions. Resurrecting Arden is Johannes’ plot element. Building the ivory tower is Claudia’s plot element. Going after bandits is Flavio’s plot element. Sometimes it isn’t easy to say. Samuel is easy going and he seems mostly interested in spreading poisonous giant frogs wherever he goes, for Tsathoggua. Michael is mostly interested in getting treasure and better armor and avoid all dangers. (Chicken!) Lilly is new and hasn’t found her thing, yet. Stefan is interested in things, but I haven’t felt a particular push in any direction. But, knowing that we’ve done a number of sessions pursuing Johannes’ plot, it makes it easier to say that the next few sessions will be about Claudia’s plot, out of the game. This is not an in-game decision.

Explicitly list open plots and ask for preferences concerning the next session. Even if players cannot decide, or no majority can be found, at least you can prepare for one of them and tell people that you’ve decided that they were going to go after X. Narrate the transition and off you go. It’s not “pure” sandbox—the players can see the man behind the curtain when they read their emails, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They couldn’t make up their mind and the referee picked Limbo and Slaads for the next adventure. If you didn’t like it, why didn’t you say so when you got the email? Sometimes this will fail and the referee will have to improvise. It happens. It’s OK. But this is important to me: This, too, is not an in-game decision.

Provide enough information. When I recently listed the open plots, I provided more information than the characters actually had available at the time. It went something like this: You could a) go look for the Formian city mentioned by the slaad spies and try and prevent the spread of the iron shadow, or b) visit Limbo, the home turf of the slaad, looking for a grey elf wizard who supposedly researched the iron shadow, or c) learn more about said grey elf wizard by visiting his home town in the astral sea, or d) continue exploring the mirror labyrinth (and stumbling into the Red and Pleasant Land, which I didn’t tell them). Provide more information than is strictly available in-game.

Make sure there are consequences and announce them. You don’t have to be super explicit, but if you take the golem armor made of old brass magic off the dead dwarven hero and envoys ask you to give it back, and you don’t, and instead you write a letter to the dwarf clan saying that you’ll wear it and use it wisely—then there will be consequences. The enjoys will fume. The scribe will shake his head. And the campaign news page will describe the dwarfs raising an expeditionary force of about two hundred dwarves and there will be interesting sessions ahead. Make sure that interesting actions have interesting consequences and make sure your players know.

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The blog post by Jens D. and the discussion on G+ left me confused, however.

For example: “What happens when people are allowed to do what they want? […] They start thinking that there are no (social?) rules at all and - in a worse case scenario - you’ll get anarchy. […] I’ve seen it happening […]” – what? That sounds like very dysfunctional people. How about talking to them? “A sandbox game is different to those traditional games in that it takes away as many limitations as possible, beginning by the world and going as far as designing rules towards the same principle.” Huh? “The DM should provide a strong sense of place and culture, so they know where they come from and a just as strong sense of the stories people tell, so they know where they are headed.” Huh?

As I said, I felt like I was reading a blog post from a different gaming culture that had used all the words I was used to in surprising ways.

– AlexSchroeder 2016-09-13 22:53 UTC

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2016-09-13 Positioning

Recently, Brendan wrote about character roles in Roles for common adventurer jobs. Basically, players write on their character sheet, if their character always does this or that. It’s like an Instinct in Burning Wheel. The example Brendan picks is positioning. Characters can “always” be part of the Vanguard, Rearguard, a Scout, or a Torchbearer.

I like the general idea and I recently had a similar discussion at the table where a player said their character would always do this or that, and I thought of Burning Wheel’s instincts and said, that’s cool—write it down on your character sheet so that next time we won’t have to talk about it.

I’m not sure positioning requires this sort of mechanical support though. Does it lead to discussions at your table? I usually just start with assumptions: “So, it seemed like you were in the front, riding your raptor, right?” That’s when others can speak up and say that no, actually they were scouting. Or if nobody speaks up, then that’s that. Or something is going on at the front and I’ll ask, “So, was anybody guarding the back? I’m guessing the dwarf and thief and their retinue are in front by the door, right? So who’s in the back? Not the wizard? So it’s going to be your guys, Michael?” If find that this helps establish the situation, and since it is framed as a discussion, players will accept the resulting positioning more readily. They practically volunteer for this or that role, as we talk about the situation.

Thing I can’t do is “Roll for surprise, Michael, your guys are being attacked!” This will lead to players arguing that they weren’t there and all that. So I’ll ask who’s in the back, Michael agrees that it would have been his guys, and then I say, “OK, time to roll for surprise, then! One and two is bad!”

Brendan’s reply is that yes, these discussions take up a little table time because he wants to know before stuff happens – a bit like buying equipment before you know what you’ll need.

I guess I see it as a different thing because players know that they are volunteering for something bad to happen.

And I make similar decisions elsewhere: I don’t want to know about who takes which watch. I’ll roll for a random encounter, and for a random person on watch right then and there. They get to pick a friend who is up with them. So, “lazy” determination. Another example is sneaking: they only need to roll when there is somebody that can hear them. Again, “lazy” determination.

Since this doesn’t seem to hurt my immersion or suspension of disbelief, I am free to consider: is predetermination leading to an interesting trade-off? Buying and carrying equipment? Yes. Vanguard or Rearguard given that you don’t know from where the enemy will strike? Not so much.

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