https://campaignwiki.org/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).

Free web apps I wrote:

Free games I wrote:

Looking for gamers here in Switzerland? → SpielerZentrale, NearbyGamers, Pen & Paper Schweiz Facebook Group, Dungeons & Dragons Meetup Zürich. Networking is important so that people moving here can find D&D games in Zürich, Switzerland.

2020-09-25 The game as a legal text

I wrote about rulings back in 2018, and referred to a thread by Eero Tuivonen, where I saw the idea of thinking about the rules of a role-playing game like a legal text in the Nomic tradition.

The way I see it, D&D resolution system properly works via precedent rulings and legislatory action. – Eero Tuivonen

The thread is urrently only found via the Wayback Machine.

Today @Tiger posted a link to an exchange I was having with @Sandra on Mastodon to a document that drives this point a lot further. It’s funny and still eerily true.

Here’s an example section from the agenda:

VII. On resolving uncertainty

WHEREAS we will surely face uncertainty in our sessions; both uncertainty because the established fiction is vague or abstract and uncertainty because our knowledge of the real world is uncertain; and

WHEREAS the probability distributions we assign to our uncertainties will almost surely not correspond to any singular, true reality, and

WHEREAS there is a long tradition of using funny-shaped dice in role-playing games,

WE PROPOSE the open die roll as a basic building block of our resolution procedure, next to the obvious ones of honest interrogation of the shared fiction and thought experiments asking what would actually happen; furthermore that our rules and rulings be free to use dice of various sizes, based on aesthetic preference and convenience as much as on realism.

Definitely getting away from game texts as manuals!


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2020-09-10 Barbarian Prince

Barbarian Prince is an old solo-adventure thing that is a bit more than just a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book. It has a hex map, rules for travelling, random encounters, adding more people to your entourage, a time limit, a goal. And it’s free! It was published in 1981. Check out the “one piece map”. 😍

Recently, as I was sitting at home, I decided to pull the PDFs out of one of those deep folders I have on my disk and started playing.

I started in that little town north of the river at 1501 – tried to cross the river but got lost in the swamp of 1401 so managed to cross it but couldn’t enter it; next day I enter the swamp successfully but encounter a troll. Foolishly I try to fight, got beat up but managed to escape with half my endurance gone. I’m lost in this swamp and I have 68 days to go.

I’ll report more when I play some more. 😁

Comments on 2020-09-10 Barbarian Prince

How does it compare to Ironsworn? There were also some GURPS Conan stuff in this vein and some early Tunnels & Trolls stuff. This is a field I’m not too familiar with. I’ve done Fighting Fantasy and Way of the Tiger. And of course IF games like Spider & Web, Floatpoint, The Gostak etc.

– Sandra 2020-09-11 06:23 UTC

Sadly, I am totally unfamiliar with the field. I played one or two choose your own adventure books as a kid and I don’t remember their titles.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-11 06:59 UTC

I spent days trying to leave the swamp, moved to the swamp of 1302, then more days trying to find the way out into the forest of 1202, until on day 11 a spectre appeared, turned me into smoke and took me to the astral plane, never to be seen again.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-15 20:15 UTC

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2020-08-28 New Text Mapper feature: map size adjustments

Eric Scheid sent me some feedback regarding Text Mapper and we ended up talking about a new feature to add or trim rows and columns to the map. Until now, adding rows at the top and columns at the left was a problem: you had to do some clever search and replace operations using your text editor if you wanted to do it.

Now, there are more options available to you: below the “Generate Map” button there’s now the following

Add (or remove if negative) rows or columns: top ___ left ___ right ___ bottom ___ add empty [ ]

And it seems to work! We’re still testing it, but if you notice something amiss, let me know.

Some strange things that I’m aware of:

  • if you add or remove an odd number of columns on the left, you’re going to change how the columns stack – not too much of a problem, I think, but probably surprising!
  • if you remove rows or columns containing “lines” (rivers, trails, roads), then those stay if they’re not entirely outside the map – meaning that they can now potentially extend beyond the edges of the map if you trimmed some of the regions these passed through and you’ll have to trim them yourself

Feel free to share links to your maps in the comments. I always love to see them.

If you don’t know what Text Mapper can be used for, check out the @textmapper bot. It posts a new map every week.

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2020-08-25 Episode 33

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how bears, ursomancy, and armoured polar bears.


  • 2016-10-11 Bear
  • 2012-08-24 Ursomancy
  • Just Use Bears by Jack Guignol: “In situations likes these, I just use the stats for a bear and no one is the wiser. Re-skin appearance, methods of attack, and add special abilities on the fly if you absolutely must...but when in doubt, just use bears.”
  • Armoured bears on Wikipedia
  • “Newborn cubs are a shapeless lump of white flesh, with no eyes or hair, though the claws are visible. The mother bear gradually licks her cubs into their proper shape, and keeps them warm by hugging them to her breast and lying on them, just as birds do with their eggs.” – Pliny the Elder as quoted in the Bear entry in The Medieval Bestiary
  • “The scholars and philosophers of the guardinals are the ursinals…” – Guardinal, Ursinal, Planescape
  • “Wardens are best described as hulking humans with grizzly-bear heads.” – Warden Archons, Planescape
  • The War-Bear, News and the War-Bear Marching Song, Soldier Bears, Slavic Art Inspiration, by Chris Kutalik, Hill Cantons (2013–2014)
  • Halberds and Helmets: my homebrew rules with links to the PDF files


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2020-08-13 The kind of tax I hate

You know I want to tax the rich. In the comments of a recent blog post we talked about hating to pay tax for corrupt governments. Today I was reminded of another kind of tax I hate. For the purpose of this discussion I’m going to use a broad definition of tax: “a charge, especially a pecuniary burden which is imposed by authority.” (Webster 1913)

Here’s what happened: many moons ago I participated in the kickstarter for the Ultraviolet Grasslands by Wizard Thief Fighter. It got delivered by DHL. The VAT was apparently CHF 6.70 (currently a Swiss Franc is about a US Dollar). OK, that’s an astonishing amount of VAT to pay but if I remember correctly, they simply assess it by weighing the goods and books are heavy. But here’s the kicker: DHL paid this tax for me, and for this service, they are charging me CHF 19, so now I had to pay CHF 25.70.

That’s close to half of what the thing itself cost me.

Just to be clear: I’m not against all taxes. I do think that VAT is thoroughly anti-social, though. It’s not a progressive tax. If a poor person and a rich person both buy the same bread, they both pay the same VAT. This is not “each according to their means.” And it gets worse: I need to pay a fee for them to collect the tax – and the fee is about three times as high as the tax itself. Uuuuugh!


Comments on 2020-08-13 The kind of tax I hate

It gets worse. The big and established shops will actually pay the VAT for you when you check out, letting you completely avoid that “manipulation fee”. That makes it very hard to compete with them.

– Radomir Dopieralski 2020-08-13 10:54 UTC

What the hell, man. How can DHL pull that off? In which world is that fee legitimate?

– Enzo 2020-08-13 14:31 UTC

I think this is simply an artefact of how the system is set up. If you get the parcel from some other service, such as the Swiss Post, you still need to pay those CHF 19. Somebody in government agreed that CHF 19 was a fair fee to pay for that service, and at the same time, somebody agreed that all VAT below CHF 5 are waived but all VAT of CHF 5 and higher have to be paid in full. At least that’s what I remember. Now all I’m wondering is if this was a measure designed to kill imports from the European Union or whether it was simply accidental. As it stands, it’s cool if your VAT is waived, then it’s punishing and makes you mad as hell, and then at much higher levels you get into VAT bureaucracy and regular people no longer care.

I wonder what they were thinking. I’d say that the fee needs to make sense compared to the tax, so if the tax is CHF 5 and the fee is CHF 1 I’d be happy to pay it. If the tax is CHF 50 and the fee is CHF 5 I’d be happy to pay it. But if the tax is CHF 6 and the fee is CHF 19, it makes me want to cheat the system.

Or rather: I think I’d rather buy a PDF or an ebook, and not print, not ship, not pay tax, and not pay a fee. Perhaps I should agree to this terrible setup because it’s better for the environment…

– Alex 2020-08-13 14:45 UTC

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2020-08-11 Hazard system

Lich Van Winkle wrote a blog post about his experience using wandering monsters.

In the comments, Ruprecht mentioned hazard rolls and I was reminded of the Hazard system as described by Necropraxis. I don’t use it, but I like it every time I read it. Something for the time keeper in a game, I guess. Lich Van Winkle then replied and said he felt “this system is more suitable to a fantasy board game than a narrative-generating role-playing game” – and perhaps he’s right.

I think the attraction for me is that I don’t actually have to do any tracking: I roll the die, and that’s it. This is as true for wandering monsters as for many other things: assuming that monsters are moving about, I could either try and know whether the various groups are, or I could just have them show up at random, which is nearly as good from a player perspective, a lot less work from the referee perspective, and also more exciting for the referee since you also get to be surprised by encounters. At least those are the benefits to me.

To illustrate, I sometimes feel like I have to balance many things as a referee: tell my players to scratch off some light resources; tell my players to recompute encumbrance; tell my players to scratch off rations; remind them of nearby dangers by occasionally remarking on spoors left by monsters; run occasional encounters; scratch off ammunition used, and so on. Now, if I had a process that would tell me “now do this, now do that” without me feeling like a servant to a machine, allowing me to delay, to improvise and to change as required but still suggest something like “how about some spoors to be found” or “how about some monsters now” or “how about they’re exhausted now” (let’s have some inter-character small talk as the characters rest and readjust), then that would seem ideal. It doesn’t solve all my problems, but it linearises and randomises all these things that are on my mind, all of them at the same time. That’s what I like about the Hazard System, that’s why it doesn’t feel like a boardgame to me.

Now, perhaps you don’t want to run such a game, and that’s fine. Personally, I rarely worry about arrows spent or encumbrance, for example. I do feel like I’d like more inter-character small talk (like those flashbacks in Lady Blackbird!) or more spoors and other hints about the environment, and the Hazard System would provide all that.

Comments on 2020-08-11 Hazard system

I too like reading the Hazard System.

However, I also feel like the problem it tries to solve first and foremost (reduce book-keeping) can be mitigated by having a cheat sheet that outlines all the necessary procedures. In other words, I think people tend to forget marking rations, torches, and whatnot is because no reminders are in front of them. Of course, once the procedures are ingrained, there’s less need to have cheat sheets, but sufficient boxes where you can mark resources would still be necessary (I mean, you need dedicated space on your character sheet for recording HP and XP, too, right?).

Ynas Midgard 2020-08-11 18:09 UTC

Nice link, I guess that’s where Megadungeon got it. It felt awkward to point something out that required someone to buy the magazine to understand the point. Plus your link has far more detail.

I like the hazard table because I can add things such as torch goes out (why? Water from the roof, someone keeps dropping it and it got wet, etc) in addition to normal tracking of torches. Rations disappearing doesn’t have to mean they were eaten, they might mean that someone just noticed (small hole in the backpack indicates it was sliced and rations stolen, the backpack is covered by spiders Indiana Jones style and they left some liquid on the rations, etc). The idea really opens up the Encounter Table to enable a living breathing environment.

Plus noises, smells, and footprints should be on encounter tables.

Ruprecht 2020-08-11 19:00 UTC

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2020-08-05 Episode 32

Halberds and Helmets Podcast Talking about how I misused a basilisk once and how I want to use it instead: like a terrible tank weapon, poisonous, with harsh save or die effects so that lateral thinking is required to get rid of it.



Comments on 2020-08-05 Episode 32

It’s good to hear you again. And what a timely manner! 🙂

Just now my players are heading to the lair of a chained basilisk, in the depths of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings (we are playing Trophy Gold).

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 09:31 UTC

How do monsters work in Trophy Gold, and how about the basilisk in particular? 😀

– Alex 2020-08-06 09:49 UTC

Trophy Dark and Trophy Gold are a pair of tragic fantasy games rooted in PbtA/BitD. As they say in their Kickstarter campaign:

Trophy Dark is a one-shot game of psychological horror, where you portray risk-taking treasure-hunters on a doomed expedition.

Trophy Gold is a campaign-length game of dungeon-delving adventure in the old school model.

I summarized to the best of my abilities. Hope it’s clear enough to understand how the game works. 😅

Monsters have six features:

  • Name
  • Description
  • Endurance — A number between 2 and 12 indicating how hard is to defeat the monster in combat.
  • Habits — Six typical attitudes of the monster.
  • Defenses — Special abilities the monster has.
  • Weakness — Something that a monster is specially vulnerable to. If the monster’s Weakness is used against it, its Endurance is reduced.

In combat, each PC fighting rolls two d6: the first one is the weakness die; the second is the performance die. Performance dice are pooled together. If the total of the two highest performance dice is equal to or higher than the monster’s Endurance, it is defeated. If any of the performance dice equals a PC weakness, his or her Ruin (the “health” of the system) increases by 1 for each performance die matching the weakness. GMs don’t roll.

The Basilisk (Endurance 10) is a giant gray eight-legged lizard with a flat crocodile head full of teeth.


  • Sniffing the air.
  • Curled up, possibly asleep.
  • Striking.
  • Demanding pets and scratches.
  • Staring at a victim.
  • Raging and thrashing.


  • Charge — The beast charges you, terrifying you and possibly knocking you down.
  • Petrifying Gaze — Your skin begins hardening and movement becomes difficult.
  • Reptilian Frenzy — You are knocked back as the beast thrashes about wildly.


  • Reflections.

– Ludos Curator 2020-08-06 10:50 UTC

Interesting. So, your ruin increases and the text basically gives you some hints as to why this might be and it’s up to the player to role-play appropriate effects of their ruin increasing (due to petrification, for example). Also, my impression would be that the effects of a fight with the basilisk is the time it takes to beat endurance 10, and every failure means another point of ruin added.

– Alex 2020-08-06 11:55 UTC

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2020-08-04 Combat posture

Today I had an interesting interaction with Pepe Andre on Discord. We were talking about combat maneuvers. You know my stance. When Pepe Andre said that they wished they had a fast rule for knocking torches out of hands, for example, I said my rule would be: nobody knocks torches out of Conan’s hands while he still has hit points.

It does make for (faster but) boring fights, but that suits me fine: the interesting question should be how to avoid a fight, or how to make it very short, not how to make it interesting. If we make it more interesting, it’s going to take even longer.

Pepe Andre then said they still like tactical decision that go beyond movement and positioning. A fair point! But perhaps there are different solutions to satisfy this desire. What if players and enemies could decide upon one single posture at the beginning of the fight?

Brom says: “This fight I’m going all-out.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “all-out” means +2 to hit and -2 to AC, for the entire fight. If that makes the fight shorter, great. If that makes the fight riskier, great.

Lydia says: “This fight I’m going to harass the steel agent in order to make an opening for Olga.” We look at our list of RPG postures and find that “distracting enemies” means you roll to hit AC 9 and if you make it, the partner you named at the beginning of the fight gets +1 to hit and +1 to damage, and the distracted party gets -1 to hit and -1 to damage. Could be important against well armored opponents? Then again, we need to compare this to flaming oil, where successfully throwing it at somebody (ranged attack to hit AC 9?) does 1d8 damage now and 1d8 next round, so that explains why there’s quite a bit going on.

In any case, writing up such a list of postures could be interesting. Something cool to share with friends, something that colours the fights at your table, something to highlight how rogues actually cooperate on the battlefield.

All you need to do is explain to your players that you want combat to be fast and furious and that it’s hard to adapt tactics and it would take forever at the table so let’s just do it once per fight, when we start.

What do you think?

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2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

Somebody wondered what to play with their kids. They said: “even simple D&D is complex … They want gratification with minimal effort.” Fair enough! So do I. 😅

I’d suggest Lasers & Feelings, or variants thereof. There are super simple: you have two stats that are connected: lasers or feelings, sorcerer or sellsword, and you pick a number between 2 and 5 for where you are on the scale between the two. Thus, if you are Spock, pick 5. On a test, roll a d6 and see on which side it lands on: for Spock, a result of 1–4 means a success when using lasers, a result of 6 means a success when using feelings, and a result of 5 means you get a special insight. There are many variants of this game, they vary in the two attributes they pick, and the adventure and setting guidelines. Most of them are one page affairs.

If the kids are older and they want D&D, switch to a version from the eighties: Moldvay’s Basic D&D, or Old School Essentials, or Basic Fantasy RPG. These games have elves, dwarves, halflings, magic users, fighters, thieves, red dragons, orcs, a cover showing a dragon, Moldvay’s Basic D&D even says Dungeons & Dragons on the cover, and all of them are simpler than D&D 5E.

If it doesn’t have to be D&D, then use something like Lady Blackbird, or Classic Traveller.

Lady Blackbird has single page character sheets that include all of the rules, and premade characters, and some adventure suggestions. Just keep adding to the setting and you should be good to go for a long campaign, or run a tight ship and you can play through it in one session. Up to you.

Classic Traveller is the classic sandbox: generate a subsector, think of some patrons and quests, factions, enemies and potential allies, and go.

What do you or would you play with kids?

Links to pages on this blog:

Links to elsewhere on the web:

Links to web applications:

Hex Describe is particularly well suited for classic D&D and old school variants like Moldvay’s Basic D&D, Old School Essentials, or Halberds & Helmets.

Comments on 2020-08-04 A role-playing game for kids

On Mastodon, I got a few more suggestions!

@urbanfuzzy suggested Hero Kids. “Simple D6 system that you can throw most stories at.”

@Whidou suggested Searchers of the Unknown, and Dungeon Romp. For younger audiences they also liked The Supercrew, “because it lets them draw their own super-hero. Dead simple rules and short games too.” And Pirates! Apparently it’s for cool for kids and beginners, “even if you may want to tone done the killing and drinking a bit.” 😅

@JasonT suggested Amazing Tales and said “my friend loved playing Amazing Tales with his 4 year old.”

My experience with very young kids at the table is that they usually just try to draw whatever is happening and their parents roll dice and decide what happens, but if this game manages to pull a four year old kid in, then that’s great!

– Alex

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2020-07-30 The Mines of Chillhame

I’ve dropped the ball on D&D for far too long. Let’s get back to it. We’re reading The Gathering Storm by Adrian Bott, for D&D 3.5, with an eye to running it using Halberds & Helmets. Chillhame is the first adventure, part two, where the player characters get to explore some stuff underground.

One hook for the part are missing children. Who doesn’t want to rescue missing children? As a player, I recognise a plot hook when I see one. There’s also John’s tomb, which might possible have his magic sword. The tomb has a missing words puzzle. I’m not so sure how I’d run it. In D&D 3.5 you would use the Decipher Script skill. But taking your time to carefully clean the tombstone also reveals everything. Not much of a puzzle, I guess? I like the thought, though.

There are two hobgoblin tribes in the area and there’s signs of combat near the tomb. This is good. One thing leads to another. With various skills checks players can discover the thing you want them to discover anyway: two trails, a woodland trail and a hill trail.

The woodland trail leads to a hobgoblin camp. The hobgoblins drawings are cool, they look like tattooed punk biker hobgoblins. There are traps guarding the camp, so it pays to approach it carefully. This is the camp of Split Ear and his eight hobgoblins, plus some non-combatant hobgoblins (children). I wonder whether I’d use them. Are hobgoblins mythical monsters, grown from rotten trunks and mud pits, or are they simply humans under another name? I don’t know. I think I’d run them as tattooed punk biker humans. And so I’ll have to make plans for players trying to resolve the situation: the hobgoblins are acting like bandits, do the get hanged? What about the hobgoblin children? Is there at least the option of settling them somewhere? Giving them control over the old mill after kicking out Jim Oakenbough? This is going to be a tough one.

Once the players go to the mine, I like how Jim Oakenbough shows up again and tries to intimidate them. And if you return from the mines, he’ll try to kill you.

And with that we get to the mines!

The mines are under the control of the second hobgoblin tribe, the Talks-with-Fists band. There are side entrances, a grate covering a ventilation shaft, a test shaft, there are tracks to find, and empty bottles in the buildings outside. I like how there’s a hobgoblin drunkard right at the beginning who can be questioned.

The mine has a mine cart that works! Yay!

I don’t like how some of the references here are wrong. The ventilation shaft ends in area 4 on the map but the text says area 6. The mine cart says that the path it takes depends on the setting in area 7, which say south, which the map says is area 9, but the text says area 5. What is going on, here? But worse: those extra entrances don’t help the party sidestep anything. That’s why I’d ignore them.

Similarly, I don’t think there’s much of a point to the spider encounter. Drop it.

So here’s I think what we need:

  • traces of Jim’s activity, the bottles in the building
  • tracks leading into the mine
  • the drunkard sleeping near the entrance
  • the mine cart as a trap and a cool visual
  • a camp with three hobgoblins
  • the room where the kids were kept previously, including the markings they left
  • the ghost, because it draws the party further in
  • the lift shaft, because of the cool visual

I’m not sure how to explain the shaft, though: the hobgoblins on the lower level seem to have no way back up unless somebody pulls them up in the lift? That’s not a smart position to be in. I’d probably add at least a ladder inside the shaft and maybe the lift is permanently broken, lying down there, smashed?

Anyway, at this point we have three things pointing to the next level: the remaining hobgoblins, the kids, and the ghost.

The second level of the dungeon is flooded mine tunnels, which is excellent visuals as anybody who has seen Aliens knows.

Down here are two hobgoblins standing guard in 13d which isn’t on the map. Oh well. And then there’s the boss, with two more hobgoblins, and some hobgoblin children.

Finally, two things to discover: diving under water to find the last child in a cul-de-sac, and the weakened wall that allows players to break through into the actual underworld. There’s Grobni the Surveyor, a duergar.

I wonder how to run a duergar in combat with their ability to enlarge themselves. Do I recompute the stats on the fly? How did the old editions handle that. In the AD&D monster manual it says they can also enlarge themselves. Weird.

Returning to the surface and warning the village of the invasion to come is cool but I think we’d also need to add a bit of dungeon material just in case the players go investigating. They need to see more than just a door that’s magically locked. How did Grobni expect to get back? Can’t he open the door? I’m sure he can! The players need to see those duergar barracks, I think.

Well, and there you have it. We’ve reached pages 45 and 46 with a discussion of the aftermath: how the villagers are going to react, how to push them to evacuate, how to proceed if the players are going to warn the rest of the kingdom, and so on.

I think at this point I should have a pretty good plan set up on how to drive the players before the army if they refuse to do what the text implies: take the evidence to Saragost and warn the villages along the way.

That’s the next chapter: Raising the Alarm.


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You probably want to contact me via one of the means listed on the Contact page. This is probably the wrong place to do it. 😄

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-22 12:19 UTC

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