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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2018-12-17 What killed the blogs?

We used to have a good blogosphere going, OSR RPG bloggers in particular. Most blogs shrank away. A big part of that was that it was all scooped up by Google+. But Google+ is ending. And some people are returning to their blogs.

Remember the 52 Pages project by Roger G.S. of Roles, Rules, and Rolls? He recently wrote about rewriting baroque versions of some of the pages in his rules.

As I tried to leave a comment on his blog, I am reminded of what killed commenting on the blogs for me: those comment forms just don’t work for me. When I browse the web, I am armed to the teeth: Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, uMatrix, and more. And that means the fancy Google stuff doesn’t work. My comments get eaten, login doesn’t work, and on and on. It’s a chore!

So, we could say that the comments are broken. Or that Google broke this fundamental aspect of blogs. No ads, no tracking? No comments!

Or we could go back to that old Gopher feeling: people don’t leave comments on each other’s phlogs, they just write blog posts and refer to each other’s posts.

So, instead of leaving comments on other people’s blogs, I’ll try to make an effort to write blog posts right here. I won’t accept that borked comment forms on blogs operated by Google bring down the blogosphere again.


Comments on 2018-12-17 What killed the blogs?

Here! Here!

It is nice that you have comments enabled, but I affirm your approach of writing blog posts in response to others. Time to write one up.

Jeremy Friesen 2018-12-17 13:50 UTC

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2018-11-29 Influental Games

Brad J. Murray is doing it again, inspiring me to write a blog post. Instead of doing a top 10 list, he just talks about influential games. Fair enough.

I’ll start with the first game, like he does. It was The Dark Eye, first edition, or Das Schwarze Auge as it was called in German. I wrote about it in 2010. It introduced me to the basic game. Fantasy, magic, equipment, combat. I still like it.

The other big influence was D&D, obviously. It was “the original” back when I was a teenager and discovered that The Dark Eye was but “copy.” How foolish I was! Some things I noticed:

  1. The Dark Eye had a defence roll instead of a fixed AC 10. All combat, twice as slow!
  2. Later editions of The Dark Eye had a skills which are tested by doing three roll-under attribute tests. Somewhat elegant, if you like skills and don’t like the micro-management of Rolemaster or Call of Cthulhu?
  3. The first edition of The Dark Eye had no clerics! And I still don’t like them.

But would I call AD&D or D&D 3.5 influential? I don’t think so. As I wrote back in 2010, I actually wanted to play M20, not D&D 3.5. I still like simple rules! The first edition of AD&D is simply memorable for Gary Gygax’ style. His prose was amazing for a fifteen year old teenager trying to learn English in school.

D&D 3.5 was important because it introduced me to the concept of the Open Gaming License. Here was something analogous to Free Software. I loved that aspect. I loved people producing other d20 games under the license.

Well, I moved from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder and kept looking for alternatives and finally I bumped into Labyrinth Lord and B/X D&D. This was material with the right amount of rules for me. Not too simple, like Risus. Not too complicated, like later editions of D&D. This was perfect, for me.

And that’s where I’ve stayed, in terms of gaming.

In university, I liked the idea of Fudge (the precursor to Fate), but I never really got to play it. When I discovered Burning Wheel and Burning Empires, I really wanted to like them because I thought the life path system and the duel of wits was amazing. But the games fell flat at the table.

When I discovered Traveller, I found that it came with a randomised life path system. This was even better because character creation was so much faster! And this was the first game I found without advancement. That blew my mind.

I ran a Traveller campaign a few years ago. Sadly I had read the rules on paying back a ship and making money by trading and thought that’s how you’re supposed to run the game, and it was boring. And when I ran it more like I was used to running games, a player said it felt like “D&D in space.” I wasn’t happy with it.

But I still carry the Traveller bug. I want to play another campaign!

I switched the campaign from Traveller to Diaspora, a Fate variant. I liked the idea of social conflict and ship combat and all these other systems playing alike. It had a sort of elegance I liked. But it turns out I don't like Fate Points. And so I ended up abandoning all Science Fiction games.

These days I think the games that have had the most influence on me are the games talking about procedures that can be transplanted to other games. Dungeon World introduced me to Fronts and Moves, for example. Mountain Witch introduced me to the idea of asking players to reveal something emotional about their characters without requiring any conflict at all.

More important than all of that, however, must have been the blogs of the Old School Renaissance (OSR) back when Grognardia was going strong. Those were good times. I was reading and blogging and gaming like crazy!

Good times.


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2018-11-27 What is Sandbox?

Brad J. Murray has been writing about his games: sandboxery asks about our definitions of a sandbox. What are they?

A few months ago I wrote that exploration is overrated. And I offered the following summary:

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

Thinking about this some more, and considering Brad’s blog post, the important part to me is this:

  1. people get to choose where to go and what adventures to pursue
  2. the world does not automatically rearrange itself due to this choice

This 2nd point is a bit soft, of course, but it’s the bigger world out there that’s important to me and my suspension of disbelief. I want things to be reall and to happen “out there.” I want the options not pursued to have an effect, for example.

So, does that put me in the upper left corner of Brad’s diagram, with lots of world planning? I really like to have a map, for example. They provide locations, names, inspiration, they anchor events and people in space. If actual travel on the map is glossed over, however, then in a way, the geography and the relationship map start to meld into each other. So if you have a large relationship map, is that “world plans”? I’d say so.

For a game that really has very little world plans, I’d nominate In a Wicked Age. There, the only thing that seems to carry over from the last game is a single character. Everything else is new and braindstormed based on the oracle. I love it, but it’s definitely not my favorite game.

OK, so I’m saying the geography and the relationships are basically one thing, they anchor the in-game reality outside of the immediate adventure. The only other thing that matters now is choice with respect to this reality outside of the immediate adventure. In an Adventure Path, that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter what the rest of Golarion does unless the adventure the referee is running will take you there. And if you choose not to go where the adventure wants you to go, then it ends.

I like games where in-game decisions affect the future adventures my characters are going to have.

Sure, if somebody says “Yo! I just bought X and want to run it!” then that’s not a problem. I can go along with that. I just feel that a campaign that is solely determined by the products we bought or by the adventures we picked from a shelf (in other words, decisions made outside the game), is less immersive, has less pull on me, than a campaign where we play for fifty sessions or more, moving through the world pulled along by our in-game decisions.


Comments on 2018-11-27 What is Sandbox?

Excellent, my response is up at https://takeonrules.com/2018/11/27/marching-through-the-sandbox/

Jeremy Friesen 2018-11-27 21:46 UTC


– Alex Schroeder 2018-11-28 08:53 UTC

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2018-11-20 Old Dwarf Drawings

I remember having drawn some pictures for the campaign with DM Peter. Let me check the Grenzmarken campaign wiki. My character was the dwarf wizard Gar. He was slightly disgusting and cowardly but friendly. He liked to wear his signature helmet of the (useless) ram. [1]

Portrait of a dwarf

Taking cover behind a dead wolf [2]:

Dwarf taking cover behind a dead wolf

Spider climbing a tower and fighting off an ogre using some sort of ray magic [3]:

Dwarf spider-climbing a tower and casting a spell at an ogre

The party misses the witch because she flies away [4]:

Party misses the witch flying away

My dwarf also learned the fly spell [5]:

Flying dwarf

Bonus! The owlbear crushes a party member [6]:

Owlbear crushes a party member

This might be my first RPG-related drawing, actually.

Here, a tentacle thing grabbed my wizard [7]

Tentacle thing grabs a dwarf

This was actually submitted to the Erol Otus Art Challenge in 2009 and got an honourable mention. So proud! :)


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2018-11-20 Drawing Dwarves

I really need a project to get drawing again. The monster manual gave a good push! I talked to my group and said I was willing to draw some character portraits. One of them was very enthusiastic and wanted a dwarf. I had already drawn a bunch of dwarves before, and his enthusiasm made me draw one more. Enthusiasm works! :)

My first dwarf:

My first dwarf

A young dwarf:

Young dwarf

A mean dwarf:

Mean dwarf

A hairy dwarf (the one I drew yesterday before going to bed):

Hairy dwarf


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2018-11-18 What I love about the OSR

People are writing about the Old School Renaissance (OSR) again...

I just read the blog post by Emmy Allen, Why I love the OSR. I reflects my own ideas. The problem is that outside the OSR, everything is so damn encumbered with IP, it makes everything extra hard. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I love Free Culture and I like neither intellectual property, nor permission culture.

But that is not all. Like Emmy Allen says, the focus on classic D&D also brings quite a bit of benefit: starting with 6 abilities to define a character, saving throws to avoid mishaps, hit points, to-hit rolls using a d20, damage rolls using smaller dice, xp for gold, gaining levels to gain power – these things are somewhat easy to understand and they are easy to use in a different context. So it doesn’t matter if you’re playing Wolf Packs & Winter Snow by Dying Stylishly (i.e. Emmy Allen) or Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publishing (i.e. Kevin Crawford).

But why are people writing about the OSR? It’s because of bitter fighting on social media, as far as I can tell. It’s the culture war, again.

Stuart Robertson wrote about the OSR logo: “Lately I have become increasingly concerned with content published alongside the OSR logo that is harassing towards members of our community including women, LGBT+ and ethnic/religious minorities. I strongly object to this and do not wish my artwork, and by extension myself, to be associated with hateful content of this nature.”

Kiel Chenier stopped working with Lamentations of the Flame Princess: “Even if this was done as a marketing gimmick (LotFP uses a lot of shock value marketing), I think it implicitly sends the message that LotFP is a game that is accepting of Peterson’s fans, anti-trans people, and the alt-right. By posting this from the official LotFP account it signals acceptance of these people and their beliefs by the brand itself. These are things I cannot in good conscience be okay with or be associated with.”

Evelyn Moreau is moving away from the gaming scene: “This is not the first time that I thought of this, I decided multiple times to remain but it appear that it was not a healthy thing to do. Toxic shit in the soil make me move away but I want to turn this into new opportunities for my art.”

Anyway, these events, and the ensuing discussions, mark this as a pretty low point for the OSR. But we’ve had online drama before. And as Zak S. said elsewhere, anything that’s non-trivial will have drama. My point is that the OSR still has value. It stands for my values. Various individuals might not, but that is besides the point.

I care about B/X and the closer family of games. What else should I call it? “Classic D&D” might work but what if I want everything that Kevin Crawford does as well? “Old School” is something that sounds like it should work. And I like the Renaissance. Somebody recently said somewhere that the OSR was like oil painters. Or expressionists, I guess. What would it mean if somebody were to hate on oil painters because a famous oil painter was saying weird stuff? I guess if the expressionists actually got together and said we’re going to do our own thing, outside the French academy of art, then that’s basically a club and a real association – but we never had that. And even if we did, are other people who paint in that style not expressionists, too? That’s why I keep thinking: this too shall pass.

Remember all the good stuff the OSR produced. It’s still good.


Comments on 2018-11-18 What I love about the OSR

Also note Welcoming intolerance is NOT just scene drama by Paul Gorman.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-11-18 17:35 UTC

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2018-11-18 Fight On!

Remember Fight On! magazine? Well, there’s activity and talk about issues #15 and #16 on the Fight On! board, on the OD&D Discussion forum.


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2018-11-17 Zen Brush

I think I need a new drawing project. I keep wanting to draw but when I sit down, I don’t have any ideas. That was the great thing about having a monster manual to illustrate.

Now now I’m thinking of drawing character portraits. I’ve started a few by drawing inspiration from my Face Generator. And I’m still using the Zen Brush 2 app on my tablet (iPad Pro + Apple Pencil). Apparently also out for Window 10 but I haven’t tried it.

Here’s my character, starting with the random face the generator produced:

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

And a non-player character, again starting with the random face the generator produced:

Image 4

Image 5

Image 6

Image 7

Image 8


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2018-11-09 Blog Post Of Note

What do you call this feeling when you want to leave small comments on multiple blogs but you don’t just want to do it on social media and every single comment is too small for a blog post? As I said a few days ago when I introduced the blog Planets: if we want to break out of the silos, we need to start doing what social media has been doing for us. We need to pick up on topics mentioned elsewhere. We need to link to those conversations. We need to recommend other bloggers.

So here’s some stuff I recently noticed:

Luka Rejec writes about Natural Language Roleplaying Games. When I wrote the Halberds and Helmets referee guide, I was somehow aiming for a more conversational style but I fear I failed. I was also trying to have two voices in the text: the main text with the rules and a more conversational style in the sidebar. I don’t think worked very well and my editor also flaged a lot of shifts in time and person (singular, plural, first person, third person, past, present). It was a mess. Perhaps natural language is a mess and if that is so, I’m not sure natural language is a good fit for rules. I do agree with the wish to avoid jargon and legalese, so there’s some sort of equilibrium I’m still looking for.

Courtney Campbell writes Don't look at this trap! and points out that there’s no harm in letting players use player knowledge at the table, if that’s what they want, because we’re friends playing a game. And I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve started telling my players: if you know it, then tour character knows it, if you want to. It cuts both ways: most remember red dragons breathe fire but when the meet trolls they might remember they have a special ability but if they ask, I’ll tell them: if you don’t know, then your character does not know either. I haven’t had any players memorize monster manuals at my table in decades, and even if players remember some of the details, what’s the harm? I also don’t enjoy reskinning monsters just to prolong the guessing game. What’s the point of trolls that look like some other monster? Players are more afraid because they don’t know what they’re facing. But what if they are facing trolls and some of them remember how to fight trolls? There’s joy and happy faces all around! As a referee, it’s good to have a bunch of monster books for the occasional surprise, but at the same time it’s good to have some opposition so players can focus on other things: remembering some lore, or diplomacy, or some other strategy. After all, the real world is super exciting even though practically all the monsters are humans and we all know their special abilities.

Aaron Griffin writes about the sandbox in his blogpost What is a Sandbox?. He mentions the term “railroad” and that reminds me of the whole discussion about player agency we had in 2011. Good times. Aaron also links to another blog by atxredbeard, I’m Crawling, but am I in a Sandbox? which ends with a question: “What does sandbox mean to you?” And that in turn reminded me of all the sandbox posts I wrote, years ago. I collected some of them in a post from 2014, Best of Sandbox Posts. There’s also a post of mine from 2016 I’d like to recommend, Rescuing the Sandbox, where I talk about the factors that help keep a sandbox from deteriorating:

  1. Clearly establish which plot elements belong to which character.
  2. Explicitly list open plots and ask for preferences concerning the next session.
  3. Provide enough information.
  4. Make sure there are consequences and announce them.

Anyway, food for thought, and I’m once again reminded of why I don’t blog so much about role-playing games these days. All too often I get the feeling that I’ve already said what I wanted to say, years ago. I need to focus on the things that changed, if any. And that makes me wonder about all the bloggers that have written good stuff that is not actually lost but simply forgotten because they no longer blog and thus their old stuff doesn’t get boosted every now and then. Let me do my part, then, and point you to this post of mine, Ode to Black Dougal, where I link to some of the best posts by P. Armstrong from 2009. Good times indeed!


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2018-11-04 Traveller Starship Geopmorphs

Wow. This free PDF with Traveller geomorphs is amazing. All your station mapping needs are taken care off, I’d say! 🙇

Linked from this blog post: The Starship Geomorphs book is finally complete!.

I always assumed that one day we’d be able to use Gridmapper to create such maps. But not with this level of detail. Such curves, structures, and more details.


Comments on 2018-11-04 Traveller Starship Geopmorphs

Definitely one for Uplinked Intelligence, the wiki that collects cool OSR Science Fiction house rules.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-11-04 19:21 UTC

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

ROK 2018-07-13 18:42 UTC

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