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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2017-06-12 Fountain Pen

Every now and then I’ve been writing about my notebooks. Some of them are nameless diaries for teenagers with fancy covers, some are litte pocket-sized Moleskine books, others are bigger Moleskine books. And I’m not happy! A while ago I got a LAMY Studio fountain pen, and there’s a lot of ghosting.

Ghosting – When you can see what’s written on the other side of a sheet of paper without the ink coming through the page. This isn’t to be confused with bleed through, where the ink actually soaks through to the other side. This is also known as show-through or echo.
Goulet Pens Blog: Glossary of Fountain Pen Terminology

This is one of the small books:

Image 4 for 2017-06-12 Fountain Pen Image 5 for 2017-06-12 Fountain Pen

These are the larger notebooks, soft cover:

Image 1 for 2017-06-12 Fountain Pen Image 2 for 2017-06-12 Fountain Pen Image 3 for 2017-06-12 Fountain Pen

All in all I am not happy.


Comments on 2017-06-12 Fountain Pen

Moleskine Notebooks are terrible if used with a fountain pen. I found that I like the Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks much better and have heard a lot of people praise the Rhodia Webnotebooks (I have yet to test one for myself, though)

– Stefan 2017-06-13 15:59 UTC

I heard excellent praise for the Rhodia Webnotebooks in this long and rambling video by a fountain pen nerd: Fountain-Pen-friendly Notebooks. The important list is in the description of the video, though. No need to spend 34min watching the video.

– Alex 2017-06-13 18:15 UTC

More: Leuchtturm1917 Paper Review. Ghosting after 5m. But yeah, it seems that Moleskine uses 72g/m², Leuchtturm 1917 uses 80g/m², Rhodia Webnotebook uses 90g/m². But then there’s the Leuchtturm 1917 “Master” using 100g/m². Interesting.

– Alex 2017-06-13 18:17 UTC

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2017-06-09 The Purpose of a Map

“A map is a symbolic depiction emphasising relationships between elements of some space,” says Wikipedia. But Sophie Lagacé goes further than. In Mapping the Veins of a World she talks about the importance of water shaping the map, the importance of rivers and “a multitude of smaller streams flowing towards the river like blood vessels or veins in a leaf.”

I agree with the beauty and I importance of water! I spent way to much time writing the river and mountain code for my Alpine Map Generator – and the documentation view where I get an image of the various stages so that I can check how the water flows.

At the end of her blog post, Sophie adds: “To be truly useful, the map should have an impact on the adventures. Otherwise it’s just a page decoration, and all to often a mediocre one.”

And that got me thinking. My maps are a way to structure access to locales, to explain realms of influence, borders.

In my current game I encouraged people to transport goods along the major river, and to build a road, and fords are hard to find so perhaps in the future there will also be a bridge to be built. This is the slow backdrop developing because people need to spend gold for xp in the game, so infrastructure built by players is a thing.

But I haven’t progressed much further than that. A lack of timber wouldn’t affect the game, more swamps wouldn’t affect the game, control of a mountain pass wouldn’t affect the game and I feel it should – but I also don’t want to get bogged down in details.

Perhaps finding that balance between geography as backdrop and geography as an anchor for adventure is what I’m struggling to find. Perhaps I need to have a table for random monthly events based on the surrounding territories.

  • Summer and forests adds the possibility of a forest fire
  • Winter and lakes adds the possibility of creatures crossing the ice
  • Spring and rivers adds the possibility of flooding
  • Mountains and winter adds the possibility of avalanches cutting you off for months
  • Summer and swamps adds the possibility for disease striking the local settlement

And perhaps some rules that are always in effect:

  • There is always timber trade from forested areas along rivers to settlements without forests
  • Mountains in winter are impassable

I’d like to return to the question of usefulness of a map. What impact does it have on adventures?

Perhaps a look at the actual maps people use at their gaming table would help. Why am I not seeing a lot of people simply using Google Maps? I think that’s because it doesn’t highlight the things gamers need:

  • adventuring locales are not highlighted
  • modern settlements are not what many of us are looking for
  • I need simple terrain to describe the area: forests, rivers, mountains, not the fractal mix of reality
  • small but important features are missing: menhirs, stone circles, wells, statues – these all exist at different zoom levels, but at the table I just want a single map

So why not the opposite extreme: what are the benefits of a point crawl, a graph of interesting locations like in the old text adventures?

  • the edges of the graph can be labelled with the time it takes to travel from one node to the other
  • no time wasted counting hexes or squares or using a ruler
  • who cares about miles per hour, miles per day, whether horses are really faster than humans and all that?
  • given the question of how to travel from A to B it still provides all the interesting locations between A and B in the right order, and it provides alternative routes

Things that the graph doesn’t provide:

  • opportunities to get lost
  • a way to make short cuts because nobody really knows what lies between the nodes – it’s undefined
  • there is no way to zoom out and identify important strategic and economic positions based on geography; in a point crawl, you must decide upon these locations and create a node for them

This last point is perhaps the most interesting to me because it allows me to discover more details in an existing map. The map is itself more than the set of its elements. If there is a valley here and a valley there, then perhaps these are also spheres of political influence. If there is a forest here and a settlement there, then perhaps there is a constant flow of timber between the two.

When looking at a setting map or regional wilderness map these days, I ask myself how much of a difference this map would make at my table:

  • Are the distances important in my game?
  • Is the terrain important in your game?
  • Are rivers and mountain ranges important obstacles?
  • Are the locations mines, pastures, or forests important assets?
  • Is the distribution of settlements important in terms of politics?
  • Is there an opportunity to get lost, take risky short cuts, claim unsettled terrain?

The answers to these questions determine the amount of information I would like to see on a map.

If you’re looking for maps, there are two great Google+ communities I know: Map-Making in Games, The Library of Gaming Maps, and there’s Reddit: /r/mapmaking/, /r/papertowns/, /r/oldmaps/, and Cartographers’ Guild.


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2017-06-04 Selling Rules and Setting

On G+, Jeff Rients linked to Revealed Preferences by Bradford Walker, who argues that selling RPGs in books had a detrimental effect and that we should return to boxed sets, basically “reducing both your lore and your rules down to the minimum required to actually get on with playing.”

Kyrinn S. Eis left a comment on Jeff Rients’ post arguing that there was a space for more variation, citing the wiki as an example. I’m not sure what wiki she had in mind, but I know that my campaigns always end with big wikis. Some of my entries from the Campaign Wiki Status page:

Campaign Pages
Greyheim¹ 226
Rasiermesserküste¹ 24
Wilderlande¹ 85
Fünf Winde 647
HagfishTavern 229
Kurobano And The Dragons 145

¹ ongoing

But Bradford Walker’s point still stands: when publishing your rules and your settings, you can’t publish the “finished” product. I like games where rules and setting are more fluid. You add the things you like to both settings and rules, you remove the things you forgot to apply during the game, modifying your rules and your setting as you go.

If that’s the game I like best, then what do you sell to people? The collection of things you started out with, or the refined rules and the elaborate setting you ended up with after a year or more of playing?

My campaign wiki has 600 pages and more, but that’s not something I’d ever want to buy.

Take a look at the Unified House Rule Document Update by James Young. This is the best part of the OSR, as far as I am concerned. People start with some sort of D&D and then they add stuff and remove stuff, tinkering and transmogrifying shit until it’s uniquely theirs, and then they share it in order to help others. Download, browse, experiment, delete, adapt, lift some stuff, it’s all good.


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2017-05-30 OSR, Where Art Thou?

It occurs to me that I don’t see my style of gaming in the places where one might be inclined to look for it, such as the OSR Community on G+. The German Rollenspieler Community on G+ is also pretty far from the things I care about.

I have no answers, lots of likes and dislikes, but mostly I am reminded of a sociology lecture I heard at university where we were told that growing older included a turning inward; less interaction with the outside world and a retreat into your own. Perhaps that’s part of it. No urge to carry the torch, to spread the light, but instead cultiver notre jardin.

So basically, it’s the circle of people I’m following on G+, the blogs I’m following on Feedly, the people hanging out on the Weapons vs. AC Mastodon instance, for me.


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2017-05-21 Education

Attributes, Skills, Backgrounds, how does it work at my table? Beloch Shrike recently started a discussion on dropping Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma on G+.

I said that I’m a big fan of renaming the attributes. This works really well while translating the character sheet because nobody gets confused. Based on Traveller, I renamed Intelligence and call it Education, now (”Bildung”). I also renamed Charisma to Demeanour (”Auftreten”). Renaming Wisdom to Yoga didn’t work as well, though.

So now that we are using Education instead of Intelligence, how do I use it? Roll under? I don’t like attribute tests. What I do instead is negotiate.

People are looking at some inscriptions, one player says: “OK, I read it!” I then say: “It’s written in the ancient tongue of snake men who ruled when the world was young. You think you’d know that?” They look at their education score and say “No… but perhaps Smartypants might,” pointing at the player of the Int/Edu 17 character. “OK, did your character spend years studying the ancient tomes of snake men? Is that the specialisation she has? And Ancient Snake is one of her languages, right?” If the player nods, then it works, and we’ll write it on the character sheet. Thus, next time, the character cannot also be a specialist in Elemental Air Summoning and Far Travel, or whatever.

This is exactly how I use skills, but using attributes as a bargaining chip. In the case of Intelligence/Education, the free bonus languages are basically the free extras that they’ll get.

Anyway, Charisma/Demeanour already has well defined effects: the number of retainers, their morale and the bonus to reaction rolls.

Wisdom is the thing that still eludes me... Specially now that I’ve removed clerics from my game!


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2017-05-16 Veins of the Earth

Hah, reviews... I’m not even sure what the point is. So, Veins of the Earth. It’s written in the poetic language you can find on Patrick’s blog. It’s illustrated with the unsettling scribbles you can find on Scrap’s blog. It’s very long. Some monsters have goofy names and maybe they’re goofy when used at the table, too.


Will I remember the lists with treasures, the lists with caves? I don’t know. Perhaps during prep? I fear the book is too thick to be used at the table as-is. I liked the twenty lamps. So, it’s a tool for prep. When you prep for your game, pick an idea or two from the book and go write your own stuff. A big plus is that none of the stuff I’ve come across is boring. Every single list item was good in some way. I don’t know whether the items are always gameable-good but they are at least visually-good or atmospherically-good.

I like how the pseudo 3D caves are generated. The result seems to make no sense at all. Go east, go down, go west, go north, and you’re back where you started. It might work at the table, who knows.

The encumbrance character worksheet looks good but I use the rule of cool at my table: if anybody suspects that some character is carrying too much, the player has to read us the inventory and if we start laughing or groaning, then anything beyond that can’t be carried by the character in question. It’s just… ridiculous.

Anyway, I’ve been leafing through the book every now and then. But I already placed it on the bookshelf once. The next step is to find a place for the book and there it’ll remain, unread for weeks and months. I should just accept the fact that I’m rarely going to actually completely read and actually use the books I have and stop buying more.

What kind of book did I get the most mileage out of? My guess is: the 3.5 monster manuals I–V. Now I feel sad.


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2017-05-14 Called Shots

Today I saw a proposal to handle called shots by LS.

When the question comes up, I always tell my players that they can do it when their enemy has zero hit-points. This results in an awkward pause and then they say: but what’s the point, the monster’s already dead? And I say: exactly.

Or, to put it another way: you can’t poke Conan in the eye while he has hit-points left. But if you’re bringing him to zero hit-points, you can tell me how you did it, and what you’re doing exactly, including subduing your foe, or shooting them in the eye.

This is exactly the same as my handling of combat maneuvers.


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2017-05-09 Doubt

After every game night, same problem. I’m exhausted and full of doubt, remembering every sad face, every exasperated sigh, every rolling of eyes, every raised voice, everyone biting back their words, and wonder how they are still coming back, and my wife tells me it was a great session and everybody had fun and yes, this and that is true but minutes later they had fun and laughed and we talk about the people that get along, and how we communicate, and make plans, and it’s all good.


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2017-05-01 Darkloch

I decided to create a submission for the One Page Dungeon Contest after all. I wanted to see how useful Gridmapper would be in such a situation.

And once again I tried to find a good solution for publishing. I tried to write a Markdown document and convert it to PDF using Pandoc. It worked, but it also generated four pages. Instead of trying to fiddle with all the options, I instead opted to use Libre Office and it was relatively quick and easy.

Also, as getting everything on one page, I just don’t have the time and energy to make it nice.

It’s not very original. But I guess that’s just what it is. I read all the cool and fantastic mind blowing stuff other people are doing online, but my own campaigns are far more pedestrian.


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2017-04-27 Rulings

One of the defining statements for the Old School Renaissance is often said to be “rulings, not rules”. So what are rulings? How do they come to pass?

One fascinating document is the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

I want to talk about the process that leads to the proposal of rules. Here is something that happened recently in one of my games:

The party is fighting ghouls at a tunnel entrance. The last ghoul looses initiative but survives. On its turn, it paralyses a party member. Nobody objects, it’s by the book.

The next round, the ghoul wins initiative and drags the helpless character into the tunnel to kill them. The players object and I relent: it drags the paralysed character into the tunnel and whoever wants to follow the ghoul and attack can do so. (More about the ensuing discussion on G+.)

What exactly happens when I say “the players objected?” The way I run my game is I often suggest a plan of action and some of my players like to then think of ways to prevent it. I start by saying what happens: “OK, so ghoul hits and you roll a save vs. paralysis.” Some dice are rolled and then I provide a suggested course of action: “OK, so the ghoul is going to drag the unconscious Ishirou into the tunnel.” And since ghouls killed a character in those very same tunnels last session, the players all know what’s coming and they’re groaning and interjecting: “Hey, it can’t drag a corpse!” or “But it can’t kill Ishirou!”. I make my argument or propose an alternative to resolving this: “Sure, he’s helpless. But OK, let’s say that retreating and dragging a body prevents it from attacking, sounds fair?” So what happens is a short negotiation. When I say “the players object and I relent” then this is what is happening at the table: I propose how this is going to fall out and there’s a little moment of silence where players can interject or propose a different ruling until we’re all as happy as can be, and play proceeds.

How did it turn out? The players follow the ghoul into the tunnel and since the ghoul wasn’t fleeing but making a retreat, they can all reach it and attack, but they all miss. Then we roll initiative again. The ghoul wins and the players object again and we agree to make a morale check (9) but the ghoul makes it and therefore decides to not flee. Instead of retreating any further, it kills the helpless character for a little snack. The rest of the party then hacks the ghoul to pieces in a bloody fury.

Should the ghoul have fled? The cavern it had retreated into was a dead end and the players controlled the exit. Sadly, I forgot to have the ghoul talk. It was a murderous killer ghoul and those are boring compared to murderous smooth-talking ghouls.

But really I think the question boils down to this: here we have a monster that eats characters. If it only ever eats characters once they’re all dead, then the character eating part isn’t all that scary. In this situation I think I favour a monster that does the thing that’s less smart and more scary.


Comments on 2017-04-27 Rulings

On G+ I just had another discussion on this topic. Aaron asked: What are your favorite pieces of OSR games? And I think that’s a weird thing to say.

For one, many referees online turn into part time authors. This is great. We can all play more or less the same game and still make something. I think the do-it-yourself aspect of easy desktop publishing and print on demand and sites like RPG Now made a huge difference. +Rob Conley said it in a blog post, recently: What everybody forgets about the OSR.

That is why I have no actual favorite pieces. It’s the act of enthusiastically presenting them to the world that makes all the difference. Spells, monsters, house rules, advice. I just love being part of the conversation without having any particular favorite words.

You already know that I think the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign is the best. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

Just read the first three posts by Eero in the thread and you’ll have the gist of it.

“My viewpoint on this ultimately indicates that most of D&D writing is necessarily of secondary concern, as most of that writing focuses on mechanical resolution concepts. This means that these writers, starting with Gygax, have failed to actually address the first-order concerns that gamers need to be able to overcome to play the game successfully: instead of telling us how he set up his sandbox campaign and how his group negotiated challenges, Gygax tells us about the outcome of this process of play. He tells us that after playing the game their group had established these sorts of character classes, and this is how their thieves picked pockets, and this is how shields worked vs. polearms. However, he never tells us the bit that I’m absolutely convinced about today after playing the game myself, that the GM’s referee position cannot work without a clear system of precedent. He also doesn’t tell us how these rulings need to be rooted in the fictional concerns of the group, and how there are no absolutely right or wrong choices for how to handle the individual resolution details. What we get instead is this myth where a long playtest has stabilized a genius rules system, and you’re not really playing AD&D if you don’t follow every brainfart rules subsystem written down by Gygax. I think that history has amply shown that the way D&D uses rules means that these rules are necessarily tied into a time and a place, into specific nuances of how people play and what they care about their fiction.”
– Eero Tuovinen

So this is where I get my position that I care about how rulings get made. I am much less interested in the actual rules themselves, the “pieces of the OSR.”

– Alex Schroeder 2017-04-29 21:18 UTC

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