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2012-06-10 Best Of 1PDC 2012

When I had finished reading through all the submissions for the One Page Dungeon Contest 2012, I had a list of dungeons I was considering for nominations. We had agreed on twenty nominations but here I was with nearly thirty dungeons and adventures I liked!

The following are short commentaries on the entries I liked. Note that I printed all the entries using a black and white printer. If any of the maps are colorful, I probably missed it.

Also, I’d love to read your take on individual entries you want to recommend. What did you like about them? What is worth imitating in our own games?

warning: Spoilers ahead! :-D

The following list was written for referees that are staring at the pile of over one hundred submissions and wondering where to start. If you only have the time to look at a handful of dungeons, check out the stars.

  • Andrew & Heleen Durstop’s Time-Shear – a dimensional rift forces the party to cross a jungle clearing with dinosaurs, a futuristic tunnel with robots (“clockwork warrior”) and an post-apocalyptic with hell hounds in the search of some dwarven miners. Each of the three scenes has a short description of one or two sentences, an encounter listing a few creatures and with a handful of words describing what they’re doing, and a natural hazard (getting lost, getting sucked off a platform, taking radiation damage) with a very simple save mechanic. I loved the image of a party trying to make sense of the crazy chaos interfering with reality and the simple elegance of the three scenes. I also liked the simple map that gives me a little overview of the scenes. I want to use this in my game.
  • André Bogaz e Souza’s Temork’s Descending Dungeon – a vertical dungeon with a lot of enemies sticking to the walls and the ceiling. This entry shows that you can write an exciting dungeon with just a bare sketch of a map. I liked the monster progression from simple orcs at the entrance to spiders and spider-riding elves and a half-spider dwarf mage. I liked how one of the traps is a slippery floor dropping the character into the room with the ogre and I liked how the other trap is hundreds of little spiders that will ignore other spiders and spider-riding creatures (i.e. most of the monsters from the levels below). I also appreciated the “tools and magical components here which might be useful for a mage who wants to craft his own gargoyles or golems.” Yay!
  • Andrés Cuesta’s Hellmarsh Monastery – a ruined monastery overrun by swampfolk (frogmen?), bandits, goblins and an undead wizard. The first thing I noticed was the map style. I love hatching, line art and multiple factions of humanoids. I was intrigued by the suggestions of the lower levels: an ogre living in the well, a deep chasm with “entrances to deeper levels in the dungeon.” I was somewhat frustrated by the plate armor with a full plate armor with two left hand gauntlets. Why? Was the wearer a famous person? As a DM, I feel like I’d have to prepare some background before running this adventure. I liked the runic lance. It doesn’t say much more than that it is “a powerful magic weapon associated with law.” That intrigued me. I guess I just really loved the map and the idea of a runic lance of law.
  • Boric Glanduum’s The Ebony Obilisk of the Snail Demon – this is level 2 of the Watery Palace of the Ooze Behemoth. I was amazed when I realized that people had submitted different levels of the same dungeon! Unfortunately the various entries differed a lot in style. As a contributor to the Darkness Beneath megadungeon in Fight On! magazine, I know how hard it is to coordinate such a thing. I liked the use of terrain (water), intelligent opposition, the potential for permanent changes to player characters (turning into a thrall), the watery theme and that the dungeon has a secret that players can discover with a lot of effort: the obelisk can be used to summon an avatars of Urosh the Snail Demon: five huge flail snails! I felt that the map could have contained more rooms and the key could have been shorter. I don’t like rows of cells or living quarters because they don’t play well at my table. I might use this for a snail demon worshipping temple in my campaign one day.
  • Dale Horstman – The Monastery at Dor Amon ☆ – the name alone invokes the spirit of Middle Earth. Two libraries beneath a monastery: the library, and the secret: a bound toad demon that eats books. I loved the side view of the monastery, the small maps with the monastery and the library, and the silhouette of the surrounding area including other hills with elvish names and hints of goblin tribes and ruinous black magic. I liked the graphical design elements as well. Above, light background and black text, below, dark background and white text. The increased font size to indicate priorities worked very well. The smallest font size was at the very limit of what I could read, but at the same time I knew that it optional content in case I want to expand on this location. This was one of my top candidates. I want to include it in my campaign.
  • David Gay – Water Genie vs. Undead Mermaid Gladiator ☆ – a high-level underwater adventure involving mermen, a marid king, his daughter, a triton, mermen, a death knight, lacedons, a lich, and a squid wizard (a squizard). The NPCs have different relations and plans with each other. The touch of madness is on the entire adventure and I love it. I really liked the little hand-drawn portraits and maps that accompany the text like a little photo story, and I really liked the high-level aspects of it: a black blade of annihilation “that destroys anything it hits” and the abyssal deeps that lead to the plane of water. This adventure is so awesome, I really want to incorporate this into my campaign. This entry also one of my top candidates.
  • Diogo Nogueira – The Hidden Shrine – a little subterranean area connected to some ruins above: a perfect little dungeon to drop into my sandbox campaign. One look at the map with its line art and hatching gives me warm fuzzy feelings. The map key does not disappoint: there are intelligent humanoids (kobolds, bandits), a riddle, a treasure map to be found (you need to provide your own), and underground river, passages leading outside or deeper down, a non-linear map and a necromancer who has been kidnapping people for the party to free. It’s simple, unassuming, standard fare and I love it. (I do confess that there are many submissions for low level characters containing kobolds, goblins or bandits.)
  • Eric Harshbarger – In The Dying Light – everything is done by hand, even the key. Curious! As I start reading I realize that this is not a typical map key: this is a journal of a party that went through the (very linear) dungeon. It’s a map and a plea for help that has been teleported back to safety and now it has ended up in the hands of the party. The awesome thing is that this entire dungeon can be handed to the party as-is. Go follow this trail! (It also means that the referee needs to consider what the actual dungeon looks like and how it differs from the map the players now have.)
  • Fco. Javier Barrera’s The River of Stars ☆ – another map in my favorite style. Or is it? It takes some studying because this entry has combined side-view and traditional maps. I felt that this slight confusion forced me to study it harder and engage more. I like it when the key facilitates skimming. A key element of that is the use of bold to highlight the important stuff. This key highlights the monsters. Thank you! The monster selection is standard fare (undead, yellow mold, goblins, dark elves, goblins, hobgoblins) with the exception of a zombie plant, a living statue of an undine, a demon and an ogre mage. I like using ogre mages myself. The treasure is guarded by a pseudodragon. Hah, haven’t seen those in a long time. I always wanted a pseudodragon familiar when we played AD&D. This seems like an ideal adventure for the mid-levels. Think of me and let one of the player characters befriend the pseudodragon!
  • Gene Sollows’ Holy Sword – when I saw this in my mail, I thought it was the most awesome thing, ever. It burst with enthusiasm! HOLY SWORD! ! As I read it more carefully, I was a bit disappointed: as I wrote elsewhere, I’m not a big fan of humor in the adventure. My players bring the humor of killerclowns and murderhobos. Our humor is the humor of desperate men in over their heads. What am I to do with a legal disclaimer pinned to the walls of the first corridor saying “Ye Olde Disclaimer DangerHigh Pwnage Intruders may be mutilated beyond recovery.” I decided to ignore the humor and take it as entertainment for the referee that is not to be communicated to the players. With that in mind, this is a great dungeon filled with dozens of traps and a lich crypt at the very end. I might use this in my game even though I’m not a big fan of death trap dungeons. We’ll see.
  • Jason “Flynn” Kemp’s Sell Swords of Mars – I confess not having seen the John Carter of Mars movie and having only read the first half of the first Barsoom novels. I do appreciate small wilderness regions. They can be excellent material if you need something to put at the other end of a teleportation gate. This is how I got to use The Forgotten Depths in my campaign. I think I’ll be using this adventure area when my players find the passage to fantasy Barsoom! Before I do that, however, I’ll need to read some source material. I’d still have to add an actual goal to the map: pick a hex with the teleportation gate back and add some rumors, NPC guides and the like.
  • Jasper Polane’s Ship of the Lost – I don’t really like ship adventures. I’m not sure why: my players do a lot of traveling by ship in my campaign. This adventure stood out because of the magic item involved: a guardian demon and a mysterious stone containing a pocket dimension holding a death titan. I don’t know exactly what it does, but it sounds awesome. I might add it to my campaign as the party reaches 7th or 8th level.
  • Jens Thuresson – Close the Gates – a simple, hand drawn dungeon, a very short key, interesting monsters (hellspawn) and an in-game challenge: to figure out that there is a problematic gate, what to do and do it. This adventure works as a potential campaign started much in the way that Death Frost Doom (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) can be a cool campaign started when you trigger the awakening of thousands of zombies.
  • Jerry LeNeave – A King With No Crown ☆ – a beautiful map and a watery theme without going all-out gonzo like Water Genie vs. Undead Mermaid Gladiator. I like intelligent and charming monsters like sirens and nixies, and since I played a fighter wearing glamered plate armor in a campaign years ago I loved seeing one making an appearance in this dungeon. When adding this dungeon to my campaign, I will have to emphasize the danger to the shipping lanes and I will have to buy into the daughters of Lilith mythology. I like this idea. At the same time I realize that this isn’t optional: without the sirens being an obvious danger there is practically no in-character point in exploring the dungeon. Without the Lilith story, the shrine of Lilith will make little sense. Oh, and I’d make sure that the statues coming to life doesn’t result in combat. Instead, there must be a test the player characters need to pass in order to pass: cover your eyes when talking to the medusa, making sure you’re not easily aroused when talking to the succubus, that kind of thing: every daughter is a little puzzle. This will require appropriate hints by NPCs or rumors in nearby fishing villages. An interesting challenge for the referee. I look forward to using this dungeon in my campaign. This dungeon was also one of the best scoring ones in my list.
  • Kelvin Green – A Rough Night at the Dog & Bastard – last year I had started running Solar System RPG and the game suggested a new style of prep: start with an empty page, write down the names of the player characters along the edges. Add abilities, beliefs, advantages or disadvantages you find interesting to the names. Add locations non-player characters, situations, events or items to the page and connect these with the player characters where it makes sense. Make sure that every item you have on the page is involved with at least two other items. It worked for me. It requires a lot of improvisation. This adventure is nothing but a relationship map between the various non-player characters trapped in an inn during a storm: a demon in human disguise, a lady, her ex, a demon hunter, his aide, an assassin, a thief and a wizard. In order to run this adventure, you need to improvise a lot and I’m betting that it will run smoother if you manage to connect you player characters to the non-player characters on the map in multiple ways. This seems ideal for an evening filled with a lot of talking and very little dice rolling.
  • L. S. F. – Fungal Infection – Myconids occupying a water supply, their fungoid queen, a number of sluice gates, possibly some fighting, possibly a lot of poisonous and hallucinogenic spores, and an in-game riddle: assuming you want to flood the queen’s tunnel, which gates do you need to open and close? It’s a simple setup and I like it. Plus, pulling off in-game riddles is always hard.
  • Leslie Furlong – The Faerie Market – at one point in my campaign the party ventured into the goblin market, faery style. I was inspired by the Courtney Crumrin comics. At the time I tried to use Vornheim book but I was looking for interesting shopkeepers and their wares but could not find a suitable table in the book and improvised everything instead which worked just as well. This adventure is basically nothing but a collection of non-player characters and their stands plus a very thing framing story (girl lost etc). The entries are suitably weird, but they are not tightly connected. My guess is that it’d be easy to use as a backdrop for an adventure, but as an adventure in and of itself, it would need a little extra effort. It would have worked very well for me. In addition to that I was once again intrigued by this style of adventure prep.
  • Luka Rejec – Deep in the Purple Worm ☆ – wow, what a beautiful page! Unlike some other beautiful maps such as Ankhor Deeps the Worm comes with a backstory, an integrated key (no time lost finding the appropriate entry in the text and very short and to the point by default), intelligent opposition, interesting foes such as a dire hamster – I absolutely want to use this in my game. Another one of my most favorite entries!
  • Michael Atlin & Michael Prescott – Dungeon Town – as I wrote elsewhere, I like that it has a list of interesting non-player characters: their characterization is incredibly short and evocative. The images are inspiring and short tags such as half-good or “retired” are great. I also like the inspiring map: a long stair reaching a stalagmite spire town; a slum further down, mines, a market, a tomb—these seem like interesting locales. I’d have to prepare the details for the various locales because of the one page limitation, but the map inspires me to think of something—even if some of them are not great on their own. Tomb? Again? It has interesting notes on the map: “Ants! Bring honey!” is enough to work as a rumor in town, as a problem, as a suggested solution or a combat encounter. A little comment like “Moistened Horrors (We’ll miss you Jake)” can also serve as a hook to a rumor, and suggest additional situations: recover the body; pacify the ghost, find his last surviving relative, that kind of thing. Unfortunately, the entire reputation mechanic is very much an added layer of rules that I didn’t find very interesting. As far as I’m concerned, I’d probably develop something less abstract. One example is Roll WIS. Low roll is either “framed for theft” or “pocket picked” depending on your current reputation. Using framed for theft for the first encounter and pocket picked for subsequent encounters would work just as well for me. I’m just not interested in the simple reputation mechanic.
  • Paolo Greco, Dyson Logos & Stonewerks – Axo’s Dungeon ☆ – what a glorious mess! Based on dungeon tiles readily available online a mix of traditional and vertical sections create a multi-level dungeon full of terrible reavers, a calamari saint, a squid king, Argonauts, it’s so crazy it’s awesome and I want to add it to my campaign. It’ll be perfect for a remote sea side temple abandoned years ago. This was also one of my most favorite submissions.
  • Peter Regan – The Kobold Coalition – a simple setup: goblins and kobolds in a cave. The only notable thing is that the humanoids have taken care to build a decent defense. A shooting gallery, pi traps, wolves unchained, buckets of oil – that is what makes this entry stand out.
  • Radulf St. Germain – The Forgotten Bath House – we’ve had a few bath houses in the contest. This one stood out because it has a ghost story to go with it. The immediate stuff is simple: there are goblins poisoning the water. There is a red herring involving living and undead spiders. The two elements that make this dungeon special are aggressive water elementals that won’t leave their room. Fighting them will destroy the water supply in e long run. This rewards attentive players. The other interesting feature is a ghost that can only be appeased by restoring the place to former glory. The idea of a low to mid level campaign centered on clearing, owning, defending and maintaining a bath house appeals to me very much. That’s an adventure suggesting long term change. It also makes the adventure a cool campaign starter. Generally this is how my campaigns start: a dozen short adventures until one particular feature catches on and the players get interested in pursuing it. This bathhouse could be it.
  • Rob S. – Rot Tower – a leper colony, some caves, what could possibly go wrong? An ancient evil chained to a madness inducing bell, an innocent priest and his evil brother – two features that put this entry on my list. I also like how bold is used to highlight the important part and the idiosyncratic map.
  • Roger Carbol – The Tomb of Oddli Stone-Squarer – a map with various lairs: bandits, stirges, ghouls, nixies, all of them make sense more or less. If you wanted the party to find the crown, however, I think you would have to provide some rumors to guide the party instead of using the suggested “it can only be detected with two consecutive 1’s while searching.” I like how the crown is supposed to have a large political value. I might want to use this for my campaign.
  • Roger SG Sorolla – Old Bastard’s Barrens – a wilderness hexmap. At first, I was not impressed. Using silhouettes instead of named entires or labels on the map seemed gimmicky. The interesting features were harder to recognize. The random encounters on the map depend on the lairs in the surrounding hexes. I’d have to see how well this works at the table. As it stands, it seems to work better than my own solution which is to quickly improvise a random encounter table with eight entries for distinctive regions on my map. My tables take nearby lairs and diurnal and nocturnal preferences into account. The system presented by the author of this entry seems more dynamic, however. All it requires is an extra die roll  and looking it up on the map instead of creating a new table every now and then. In addition to all at, the encounters and locations presented also imply a dormant lich, and the map has a short list of suggested missions—the last of which is to destroy the lich! Makes me want to run it!
  • Shawn Harris – Down Draft – as adventurers gain levels they sometimes gain mounts. Ever since I heard about player characters gaining pegasi or griffins as mounts, I wanted to incorporate these into adventures. This particular adventure takes place in a flying fortress. The elf king grants you pegasi to reach it. An excellent way to start. The rest is evil elves, orcs, shadows, and an ogre mage. My guess is that this adventure would work best if the referee manages to convey the awesomeness of riding pegasi up to a flying fortress and if the party is allowed to stay in control of the flying fortress if playing well. That would be a great campaign start!
  • The Seven-Sided Die – The Tomb of Nesta the Mischievous – I’m not sure what I like about this dungeon in particular. It has all the things I like: a nice map, multiple exits, intelligent opposition, factions (undead, orcs, kobolds), traps (including a petrification trap with ample warnings and green slime, pits with centipedes). I think this dungeon might work best if players thought it was going to be a death trap, but I’m not so sure. As it is, I’d use this dungeon as a neat filler side-quest. “At the inn, you overhear a ranger saying that they recently saw some kobolds in the hills a few hours away.” That kind of thing.
  • Warren Abox – Will No One Rid Me of The Troublesome Goblins – another standard dungeon to have in your folder for an emergency. Yes, you could probably improvise all of this in a minute or two, but having it on paper, having a nice map with notes on it, having a named leader and a little strategy (guard dogs, archers, stones dropped on intruders) makes it all the more fluid. It appears that the author subscribes to the same goblin origin story I subscribe to: goblins crawl out of subterranean mud pits. Thus, the chief likes to “wile away his time on the edge of the pool of foul darkness, ready to snatch up new goblins who arise from its inky depths and brutally teach them who commands these caves.” Yes indeed! Simple, but it works.
  • Will Doyle – Tomb of Snowbite Pass ☆ – let me finish the list with another awesome map with notes, a bit like a flow chart except that it rocks! In order to activate the eye beams that melt the snow on this pass, the party will need to solve the riddle involving fire water and the ice goblet, fight ice gargoyles, snow wolves and replicas of themselves. Ah, to remember the good old days. Anyway, the visual style makes me want to play it. In fact, I prefer the lack of irony compared to Holy Sword.

A final note: Given all of the above, I often felt that a simple way to get more of my attention (I don’t know how the other judges felt) is to have descriptive labels on the map itself so that I don’t have to read the key all the time and to use bold to highlight the important parts of each room so that I can easily skim it (monsters, treasure, anything that’s in your face and easy to spot when players enter the room). I also like my dungeons to have multiple entrances or exits and to provide for more goals, use interesting magic items (simply having an interesting magic item that can be removed by the party would result in two points)… That kind of thing. It’s not easy to balance this with the time and space constraints, I know. My own dungeons wouldn’t score too well using my own system.


Comments on 2012-06-10 Best Of 1PDC 2012

Thanks, Alex.

My thinking behind the Crown is that this is a dungeon for a West Marches sort of sandbox. They romp around through the dungeon for a while, need to go up north to find the king’s bones, and have general hijinks. Many levels later, they come on back in and get the final treasure. It’s certainly not a “let’s finish every room in the next four sessions” sort of thing.

Hope to hear someday of how it works out in your campaign.

Roger Carbol 2012-06-12 20:21 UTC

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2012-06-19 Alignment, Paladins

Here are some comments I left on various discussion on Google+:

Mike Evans wonders about paladins and suggests “What if you take your oath and drink the blood and poof you gain certain abilities to your class.”

That’s exactly how I handle it in my game. Plus, the abilities vary between gods. At the moment only one character ever swore to dedicate this life to the service of Mitra and thus various minor at will abilities were offered in return: light fire at will, a halo at will, detect the presence of liars at will, preventing the utterance of lies in your presence at will, the ability to make any oath by willing participants binding.

I also tied this to a separate subsystem of reputation – you needed to a service for Mitra to qualify forthe fire making ability, you needed to save a person for Mitra to qualify for the halo, you needed to save an entire village for Mitra in order to qualify for the binding oaths. (See 2011-12-20 Magic Without Spells.)

If you don’t want to do that, you could also tie it to levels: light fire at will (minimum level 1), a halo at will (minimum level 2), detect the presence of liars at will (minimum level 3), preventing the utterance of lies in your presence at will (minimum level 5), the ability to make any oath by willing participants binding (minimum level 7).

(The picture shows a self-declared paladin of Arden, a dead elven god that does not grant any powers at all. He threw himself into a bottomless pit as the other character who had fallen into the pit had been carrying the Chalice of Arden. I love my players.)

Scrap Princess wondered about Law vs. Chaos and asked “why is the original neutral/chaos/law alignment system such a beloved artefact?”

I said: Law vs. Chaos is beloved (ie. popular with some, reviled by others, discussed by all) precisely because it is contentious. All the simple things are easy to decide. The undecidable things attract our attention and focus our emotional energy. I think JRR Tolkien said something about all good stories needing unexplained things to keep people interested and that is why there is no explanation for Tom Bombadil – and see how he pops up again and again even though he seems to be unrelated to the greater story. So much so in fact that he didn’t make it into the movies.

I also happen to think that contentious, unexplained elements fuel discussions and thus these items remain in the popular consciousness. I think there is little contentiousness around ability scores. There is some contentiousness but it’s all explainable when it comes to hit zones. But the stuff that is actually discussed endlessly are levels (vs. skills), saving throws (abstract vs. Poison or more concrete Fortitude saves), hit points and alignment (as opposed to the simple ethics of good or bad deeds). I don’t believe these issues can be “settled” and therefore they keep getting discussed.

Thus, I don’t think there’s anything special about the alignment discussion. Alignment just happens to have these properties: contentious and unexplained.

As for myself, I want to like Law vs. Chaos but find that it rarely has an effect at the table.


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2012-06-20 Hexcrawl Procedure

On Google+, Jeff Rients recently wondered whether he was feeling dissatisfaction with his hexcrawl procedure. I’m interested in comparing notes. How do you run wilderness exploration?

When I read procedures like the ones Justin Alexander recently posted on his blog, I realize that my own procedures are super simple in comparison.

Here are the basics:

  • My player characters cannot get lost.
  • When non-player characters tell the player characters about a location, it gets placed on the map in the correct hex.
  • When player characters enter a hex searching for a particular structure they will always find it.
  • The default is one hex traveled per day unless there are roads (rarely) or they are traveling by ship along a coast (in which case it’ll be eight hexes per day). As it stands, this ignores movement speeds and hex size. You travel one hex per day, that’s it. I usually think that one hex is five miles, but players don’t need to know that.
  • Many hexes have a structure in them seeded by the Wilderlands of High Fantasy but I add One Page Dungeons, I place other stuff I got from the net or from books I bought, all the intelligent monsters on my encounter tables have a lair in the region, and I will add more structures when the party moves through the hex again if it seems plausible.
  • There’s a 1/6 chance for a random encounter during the day and another 1/6 chance for a random encounter during the night.
  • The encounter tables usually reflect the general region’s makeup. A typical region is an area of 5×5 hexes.

With this in place, players will usually learn about a new location from NPCs, decide to travel there, have one or two random encounters on the way providing side-quests, other plot-hooks and adding to the wilderness. After exploring the dungeon or doing whatever needs doing, the party will travel back, sometimes picking a different path for their way back in order to learn something about the area they’re in.

Thus the actual procedure at the gaming table is simple:

  1. When the players enter a new region, prepare a new random encounter table with eight to ten entries. See the Swiss Referee Style Manual for more information.
  2. Players tell me where they want to go. Roll 1d6 for a daylight encounter and 1d6 for a nighttime encounter for every hex traveled. Combine encounters if that spices things up. 😈

That’s it.

If your procedure is more complicated, I’d love to know what you do and why you do it. Maybe it’s something I could add to my own procedure! :)


Comments on 2012-06-20 Hexcrawl Procedure

Personally I’ve not done any proper hex crawl style adventures since I was a kid, so I don’t have a procedure of my own.

I did notice this though: “When player characters enter a hex searching for a particular structure they will always find it.”

This is how I’m leaning towards handling secret doors these days. Players rarely search for them, and I feel it’s nice to reward it if they happen to look in the right place, whether by chance or by deduction.

Gavin 2012-06-21 21:52 UTC

That’s my approach to all thieving skills, bard skills, knowledge skills or whatever you want to call them. Unless there’s a very good reason to roll dice, I’d rather the characters know something or find something.

If you don’t run hex crawls, how does travel work in your campaigns? Is there a map with all the known locations on it, players point at their intended destinations and say “we go there” and you respond with “two weeks later, you finally reach the elven palace of Mirkwood?” Or do you have an abstract flow-chart like map that involves other locations to pass through—and potential encounters?

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-21 22:00 UTC

Well, the LL games I’ve run the last couple of years have involved very little overland travel – they were mostly centred around a huge city and a few surround areas. So, yeah, the few times the PCs went between places on a larger scale I just told them how long it took to get there and that was that.

Gavin 2012-06-22 17:57 UTC

As Claytonian JP and others said on Google+, humans can walk much further than five miles per day. Based on the d20 SRD Terrain and Overland Movement tables and the rumors you find on Google (such as the thread How far could the legions travel in a day where you’ll find people saying “the carolean army under normal circumstances marched between 20 and 30 kilometers a day with a days rest every other day, and they used the same means of transportation” ie. 6 to 10 miles per day or “Tacitus (or was it Iosephus Flavius? - I’m far away from my books) wrote, that the standard distance for a legionaire was 20,000 steps/day, […] the Roman pace or passus was 2 steps, total length of about 5 feet. Hence the mile is from millia passus or 1000 paces, 5000 feet” ie. 20 miles (on a Roman road).

As I said in the original post, however, it seems to me that the exact distances covered aren’t really necessary at the table. A day’s march is a day’s march and only the most basic logic needs to apply: how big of a detour would you take around a swamp of trackless forest? Will you save any time by not following the road? How much faster will you be by ship? How many hexes do you need to settle in order to build a castle?

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-13 15:23 UTC

There are a couple things I notice from your procedure:

(1) By using invariant movement rates, you are removing one of the major incentives my players have for investing in horses. I’ve found that horses can make for a lot of interesting gameplay ranging from the common (the security precautions necessary to make sure they don’t get eaten while waiting outside the dungeon) to the unique (over the past couple sessions I’ve had one player invest in a scheme by the Halfling Mafia run by another group of players to use illusion magic to disguise nags as high quality horses, which resulted in an entertaining sequence resulting from random tables in which a third player ended up buying three nags in a row from the same horse dealers)

In short, interesting trade-offs of encumbrance, expense, and logistics that I’ve found have interesting impacts on practical gameplay and interesting story outcomes.

(2) By limiting the number of potential encounters per day you are affecting the strategic/tactical balance of wilderness vs. dungeon gameplay. Probably not a big deal, but something to think about.

I make four checks per day, with cumulative odds of roughly 1/8, 1/8, ¹⁄₃₂, ¹⁄₃₂, ¹⁄₃₂, and ¹⁄₃₂. This totals a 38% chance of at least one encounter per day, which is not disparate from the 33% your 1/6 and 1/6 checks have. But I have a significantly higher chance of generating multiple encounters per day.

(None of which is to say “you’re wrong!”. I’m just answering your question about why I do things differently.)

@AlexSchroeder: I find the hexcrawl to be useful if exploration is the name of the game. If exploration isn’t the name of the game, then there’s generally a reliable map available that the PCs can base their travel plans on. This either takes the form of them planning their intended journey which I then prep with appropriate stops and scenery (either in detail or “montage”). Or it takes the form of a “flowchart” of decisions, although these are rarely preplanned.

Another way to look at it: If the game is structured around making a map, then I use a hexcrawl. If the game is about using a map, then I do travel montages or travel decision-points.

Justin Alexander 2012-07-14 21:08 UTC

Thanks for the comment, Justin.

Indeed, horses are a topic that I’ve been most frustrated with as a teenager playing AD&D 2nd ed and one or two years ago when I wanted to play a mounted archer using D&D 3.5. Taking care of horses always seemed like a chore. I’d be interested in giving it another try.

Currently, horses haven’t come up much. I guess this is due to two reasons:

  1. Terrain: My wilderness is mostly trackless mountains, forests and jungles. It seems to me that horses are better suited to plains and roads. Mules and donkeys might be more appropriate to my campaign.
  2. But even if I had more plains and roads in my setting, I’m thinking that using horses should not increase the distance covered per day. I know this is not what the SRD says, unfortunately. Based on what little I know horses need to rest much more often than humans or they’ll overheat and die.

Apparently horses are only faster if you can change them every so often and this is how the old communication networks did it: have manned stations along the roads where couriers can get fresh horses.

You are absolutely right regarding the number of encounters per day. The only fix I have is this: I roll for a few consecutive days of exploration and combine the results as I see fit. This mostly applies not when exploring the wilderness but when travelling from town to town or from town to dungeon and back.

Perhaps adding a simple additional step to my rule provides a similar result: Just roll for an additional random encounter whenever there is one? Keep rolling until there is no additional random encounter.

Interesting that you make a distinction between making and using a map when travelling. I confess I used travel montages exclusively when I ran adventure paths or just strung modules together. As soon as I started running my sandbox, however, I’ve used my hexcrawl procedure to cover all travel.

I guess I would not use my hexcrawl procedure if the party was moving through an area that was 100% safe. I’m not sure such an area exists in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. I suspect it does not.

Perhaps I’ll change my approach if my players are getting tired of the constant stream of random stuff they meet on the road. This is something I’ve done in my D&D 3.5 game once the party reached level eight and nine: I just described how they sometimes saw orcs or lizardfolk patrols fleeing them and skipped random encounters unless they were moving through areas controlled by giants, dragons or vampires. Absolutely something to consider if my current campaign ever makes it to the mid levels.

AlexSchroeder 2012-07-14 23:07 UTC

Just found a hex crawl exploration procedure by John Bell. It seems somewhat complicated for my taste. I like the feel of keeping landmarks in sight, the roles of timekeeper and quartermaster and and the easiest path being randomly determined.

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-10 06:46 UTC


The procedure’s actually pretty simple to run in practice. What makes it look complex is all the reminders to have people keep accurate records and to remember to ask the relevant questions. In play each chunk goes something like:

“Are we lost?” “No. You have the river on your right still.” “Where’s the path going?” “North.” “We’re going to head north at a normal march keeping the river on our right.” “K. Anybody want to talk with anybody else?” “Naw. Nothing’s changed since this morning.” “OK. You enter into a forest hex. You find some … lizard scales… just before you stop for your noon rest. Looks like a shed skin.” “Do we see the lizards?” “Nope. You want to search the hex?” “No.” “K. You take a noon rest. Mark off a ration of food and water for everyone.”

It just looks complicated when written out.

John Bell 2013-09-10 17:51 UTC

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2012-06-25 Monster Stats

Google+ feels like a big torrent of discussion—and just like forums, Facebook and Twitter it seems to me that little things I said I would like to come back to are lost. Not even I can find them anymore! In an effort to remember some of the things I said, I’m going to copy some stuff to this blog of mine.

Evan Elkins of In Places Deep wondered about the stats needed to run a monster.

Here is an example from my submission to Fight On!:

Bel, Slayer of Men (HD 10; AC 2; Atk 1 flaming whip (no damage but on a hit it grants +4 on the hit with the sword in the same round and on a 20 it disarms the opponent), 1 flaming sword (3d6); MV 9; flaming aura deals an extra 1d6 to everybody nearby; immune to non-magic weapons; immune to fire)

Atk lists damage and any other special abilities which take effect upon a hit whereas the special abilities listed at the end are spells and other abilities that can be used in addition to or instead of actual attacks.

At first I also wanted to add Labyrinth Lord style saving throws: F5 and the like, but then I looked at Swords & Wizardry and decided a simple save (SV) would be good enough and simpler to use. Then I discovered that the save was simple to determine based on HD and I decided to not include it at all. If this was a monster manual I was writing, I’d add it as well.

I feel bad for not having added morale (ML). I find that morale is extremely important when playing old school games. It’s not hard to improvise: cowards use 5, weaklings use 6, men use 7, well led humanoids use 8, disciplined use 9, fanatics use 10, lunatics use 11, unnatural creatures use 12. When sustaining the first loss and when having lost half the number, but no more than twice per fight, roll 2d6. If you roll over the morale score, they break and run or do a fighting retreat depending on alignment.

I didn’t add % in Lair. At first I felt bad because I liked the idea. The number can be used when facing an empty hex map that hasn’t been “stocked” with lairs, yet. As characters encounter creatures, the lairs get placed. Then I thought I could use a simple 1/6 chance to place lairs. The differing % in Lair numbers mean that some lairs of creatures on the random encounter tables will be hard to find because apparently the creatures travel a lot. But how much difference would this make at the table? Now I feel pretty good about dropping this stat.

I also didn’t add hit-points because I prefer rolling them at the table. What I hate is sorted hit-points for a group of enemies, ie. 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6. Do I need to mix it up again? Do the weaker ones just fall first? What I usually do is throw a handful of dice when combat starts and whenever a creature is hit that doesn’t have hit-points, I quickly roll for them and subtract the first damage roll.

Finally, let me plug the Old School Monster Wiki: Campaign:Monsters.


Comments on 2012-06-25 Monster Stats

These days I use the following when copying stats into my prep notes:

10 orcs HD 1 AC 7 1d6 F1 MV 12 ML 7 XP 5

Number, hit dice, armor class (descending: 9 unarmored, 7 leather, 5 chain, 3 plate), damage, save (fighter, cleric magic-user or thief; if unsure, use 19-HD±2), movement rate (multiply by 10 to get feet per round of combat or turn of exploration underground), or yards per turn exploring outside), morale (6 are cowards, 7 humanoids, 8 well led, 10 bosses), XP (for convenience; alternatively, use HD×100).

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-17 06:45 UTC

That’s pretty similar to the old TSR statblocks which look like this:

1-4 Shadows*: AC 7; HD 2+2; hp 10 each; MV 90’ (30’); #AT 1 touch; D 1d4 + drain 1 point of strength for 8 turns; Save F2; ML 12; AL C; xp 35 each; THACO 17; BD36.

I have not figured out what the star behind the name means, probably ‘special abilities not listed here’.

Harald 2013-09-18 17:41 UTC

Definitely. I’m just trying to save bytes when scribbling notes. :)

In B/X, each special ability was worth a star, and HD plus stars was used to determine xp. As this monster already comes with xp, I’m not sure why the stars were kept.

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-19 07:43 UTC

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2012-06-27 Mystara

I got interested in Mystara after reading the reviews by Lowell Francis, seeing the new maps on Bruce Heard’s blog and the other maps by Thorfinn Tait. If only the printed copies were not so expensive. I checked eBay and felt that the price was far beyond what I was willing to pay.

The argument I find convincing from Francis’ last thoughts on the gazeteers:

IMHO Forgotten Realms and some of other recent settings aspire to be Tolkien-esque: historical, detailed, logically consistent, rich and deadly serious. The Gazetteers and Mystara as a whole take another approach. They’re closer in tone to earlier D&D material. […] I do believe that lighter tone makes the setting feel more accessible, more friendly. As bizarre as it might sound, given some of the horrors in the setting, I feel like Mystara’s a good and happy place. I feel like my characters would be welcome there- and could make a difference.

I think I’m appreciating this more right now because when I try to describe my Labyrinth Lord campaign with the Shields Shall Be Splintered and Death and Dismemberment house rule, I often fall back on the images of murder hobos and killer clowns. It’s deadly and dangerous and in order to deal with all this danger and their flawed characters, players are ingenius, ideas are awesome, events are goofy, and we have a great time at the table. I’d say retro-stupid according to Jeff Rient’s threefold model.

I’ve seen this sentiment expressed on another blog, recently:

Slapstick isn’t something anyone would ever imagine adding to fantasy, it’s been quietly ignored in all D&D licensed comics, books and movies, it makes no sense - and it works. The massive infusion of humour and unpredictability it adds is totally vital to RPG’s as I play them. – Critical Fail by Rotten Pulp


Comments on 2012-06-27 Mystara

Dear Alex. I’m glad you enjoy the work I do, however, in the future I would prefer you only posted a link to my maps, rather than posting them directly on your site. Many thanks.

Bruce Heard 2012-06-27 14:05 UTC

No problem. I’ll use a map of mine instead.

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-27 14:23 UTC

Or you could use a thumbnail. Cheers! :-)

Bruce Heard 2012-06-27 17:40 UTC

You can upload a portion of the map from here: This would help illustrate your page.

Bruce Heard 2012-06-28 17:43 UTC

Thanks, Bruce. No worries about the map. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-28 21:41 UTC

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2012-06 Book Club

What: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

When: 20 June, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)

In 1978, gifted student and writer Greg Roberts turned to heroin when his marriage collapsed, feeding his addiction with a string of robberies. Caught and convicted, he was given a nineteen-year sentence. After two years, he escaped from a maximum- security prison, spending the next ten years on the run as Australia’s most wanted man. Hiding in Bombay, he established a medical clinic for slum- dwellers, worked in the Bollywood film industry and served time in the notorious Arthur Road prison. He was recruited by one of the most charismatic branches of the Bombay mafia for whom he worked as a forger, counterfeiter, and smuggler, and fought alongside a unit of mujaheddin guerrilla fighters in Afghanistan. His debut novel, SHANTARAM, is based on this ten-year period of his life in Bombay. The result is an epic tale of slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison torture, mafia gang wars and Bollywood films. A gripping adventure story, SHANTARAM is also a superbly written meditation on good and evil and an authentic evocation of Bombay life.

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