Saturday, October 13, 2018

OSR Questionnaire

When I first became aware of the OSR, I was excited about it and learned as much as I could. After discovering Dungeons & Dragons (original) and the communities that support it, I no loner feel like I am "a part of" the OSR in a straightforward way.

It seems at first the OSR was about a return to the original, wargame style of play at the time of the birth of D&D as a hobby. Part of this included a return to a more DIY approach, both in terms of setting (not relying upon someone else's published, professional, setting) and "rulings not rules" (realizing that the local referee, group and game play itself was more important for developing both the rules and the shared setting than strict adherence to a professionally developed set of rules and settings).

In other words, the OSR represented to me a return to D&D as a hobby, rather than a consumer product. The hobby approach empowers creativity. The consumer approach makes passive clients. As a hobby it comes with a hobbying community of idea-sharing and mutual support. The internet facilitates such a hobby community in a large and broad way.

Much of what I have seen the OSR become since I got back into gaming in 2013 is a proliferation of small-scale or semi-professional game-resource publication. There is a lot of really good stuff out there. But, just exactly because of my more hobby-based, localist approach, I do not find myself using other people's modules very often, however professionally slick or "old school."

However, much of the stuff published as "OSR" falls into the current cultural zeitgeist that "creative" indicates, or is equivalent to, being edgy, troubled, dark, or "morally ambiguous." A lot of talk out there is about how we need to eschew "tropes" of fantasy in order to be "truly creative." In some cases it seems that the goal is to be as edgy as possible while still playing in a new school, story-game style. "Mapping sucks." "Challenge people with a moral dilemma." Etc. I find none of this attractive.

The following questionnaire comes from a big OSR personality named Zak. I do not follow his work much, honestly. But I stumbled across the questionnaire from other folk's blog posts and google+ posts where they filled it in in interesting ways. That is a good gift to the community, so, thank you, Zak. So if you are still reading, here goes:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Philotomy's Musings

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

My own pithy zen-like saying in the spirit of Matt Finch's "Primer":

Amateur hobby, not professional product.

Medieval fantasy wargames campaigning is a hobby, so dive in for amateur fun. Stop expecting "professional production quality," and go for the joy and creativity that comes from a community of amateurs sharing ideas and swapping stories -- hobbyists who do it for the fun of it, not for profit. Don't passively receive wargames campaigning as some product rendered to you as a mere consumer of what "experts" say you are supposed to like or agree upon as standard. Instead, Fight on!

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

Tomb of the Sea Kings

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):

"Crits" & "Fumbles": "Natural 20" does full (not double) damage. Don't do fumbles. Fumbles punish everyone with unfun. Both rulings come from Philotomy (see above).

5. How I found out about the OSR:

In 2013 I was surfing the web and remembered D&D then I plunged into what was going on and found my way to the OSR and, through them, to the original rules for medieval fantasy wargames campaigns.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:

Mr. Josh Bear's ODD Referee Tool. I use it every session.

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

Because of what I mean by "OSR," as a return to old school, war-gaming style of play, together with, but not limited to a DYI attitude:

Finarvyn's ODD74 proboard, and
The Knights & Knaves Alehouse forum.

These are old-school internet formats that actually encourage conversation and not disappearing content:
This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.
8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

My own blog (you are here). I just don't post very often or very consistently. Sorry about that. (I hope that it is due to the fact that most of my hobby energy goes to actually gaming weekly.)

I also hang out and talk about games with real-live people that I know. Once a year I get to go to the North Texas Role-playing Game Convention and I get to talk to even more real live people about the game.

I followed folks on google+ but just used it to share my blog posts. It is now going the way of the dodo. We will see what happens with the migration to MeWe.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

It is not my own, but Delta's Target 20 combat and save resolution, combined with my own house-ruled hit-dice approach for distinguishing classes from one another. This has recently been "historically justified" by none other than Jon Peterson himself!

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:


11. Why I like OSR stuff:

The OSR stuff that I like, when I like it, is stuff that has come out of someone's loving, amateur DYI hobby that is full of archetypal fantasy, full of interesting puzzles to solve, and immediately usable at the table (= good, easily readable, well-keyed maps).

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

Wayne Rossi's The Original D&D Setting. Just so good.
Paul Gorman's Magic Swords.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

Please, don't read mine if you are only going to read two RPG blogs! I don't have nearly enough content. So, I get to name two. Since I have already mentioned Delta's D&D Hotspot, Jon Peterson's Playing at the World blog, and Wayne Rossi's Semper Initiativus Unum blog, above, then I get two more:

Jeff's Game Blog.
Hack & Slash.

Dyson Logos' Dodecahedron should get an honorable mention. His mapping skill and artistry is only improving. Unfortunately, for me, the actual gameable content of the maps has become increasingly blah and unusable over time. Dig back into his earlier stuff. Less pretty (perhaps, I still think it is great), but far more usable for old school play: lots of overlapping rooms and corridors, secret hatches, passageways, doors, traps. Just more interesting and inspiring for my style of play.

Finally, Bryce Lynch's Ten Foot Pole should receive another honorable mention. I agree with his module criteria about 80%, and that is about as much as any mature adult can expect to agree with another mature adult if they are not members of a cult. My main points of disagreement are where he tends towards "realism" and "ecology," whereas I enjoy a more "funhouse" approach.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

My own cumulative setting and house rules. I mean not just The Perilous Realms supplement I published or the simplified version I have as a page on my blog, but all of the cumulative rulings I've tracked due to actual play in the campaign. I have it all compiled in a readable but loving imitation of the Judge's Guild Ready Ref Sheets. I call it "Campaign Aids and Inspirations." It is where I put all my generative charts, tables, and decision trees. I haven't shared that document and I may never. The point is for you to develop your own settings and rulings.

15. I'm currently running/playing:

The Perilous Realms, a medieval fantasy wargames campaign. I use my own campaign world based upon an anachronistic mash up of our own medieval and ancient past. Each particular wilderness is the Outdoor Survival board set in such a way that the river flows to the nearest major body of water. The particular wilderness right now I call the Hollow Lands. They lie underneath the Mazandarin Sea, the nearest major city being Hecatompylos along the Silk Route. I use my own house rules built upon Dungeons & Dragons (the original rules for fantastic medieval wargames campaigns).

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

If I am at your table, I trust you will tell me if my attack was successful. If you are at my table, I will tell you if your attack was successful. Thank you, Dave Arneson.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

Please see above.

Fight on!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Armor Class, Movement, and fiddling with the archetypes

Why would I buy a two-handed sword if it still just does 1d6 damage?

Because, although you cannot wield a shield with it, it acts as a shield itself.

Why would I wear anything less than full armor class 2 as a fighting-man?

Because decreasing armor class increases encumbrance and thus slows movement.

AC, Encumbrance, MV table

We use the four M's for our combat round cycle:

If your MV rate is better than that of an opponent, you might get an extra attack during the movement phase of the round.

Formula: difference greater than 3 = success. Difference 3, opposing check on 1d6, +1 to the party with the higher rate. Equal rates, opposing check on 1d6.

But I'll throw in a bonus side affect for you: you get to be a fighting-man that looks like Conan the Barbarian.

Recall that I allow both shields and helmets to decrease AC by 1. They just can't do so cumulatively such that you would go below your class limit.

I'll even throw in something extra for you: ring mail costs and functions the same as leather. So you can wear a big ring-mail shirt, a horned helmet and wield a two-handed sword and function at armor class 5. (Or look like the above picture: no helmet but shield and regular sword. Whatever. You get the point.) You get the benefit of attack during movement phase. You are welcome.

Why can't elves wear regular armor?

Recall that, because of the nails the crucified the King of Heaven, all iron is hallowed, stopping all (non-clerical) magic.

But elves can wear bronze armor, it costs and functions the same as chainmail. Most magical armor is ancient, thus already made of bronze.

Then why couldn't magic-users wear, say, at least leather armor?

Silly. Don't you remember that, in order to cast spells, magic-users must utter the words of power and engage the somatic gestures that resonate the spell across planes? Armor would weigh down and block the somatic resonance. Everybody knows that.

Fight on!

Monday, July 23, 2018


I am one of those D&D (original) players that looks askance at "new-fangled" things like "cantrips."

I was reading an excellent post on the new spells of the Greyhawk supplement by Delta and, especially his point about spells that seem to weak, I thought: maybe this is what "cantrips" could look like in original edition play.

I think it adds to the Sword and Sorcery vibe and feel. I think it sets up good role-play opportunities at low-levels. I think it solves the "my magic user can only cast one spell" whine. (I disagree with the sentiment but it is sometimes easier to throw a bone than argue a point).

I'll list the cantrips and their descriptions. Then I'll give a little commentary and ask for your thoughts.

All magic-users cast cantrips without spell books or memorization; # cantrips per day = # memorized spells capable of caster; additional cantrips cast at cost of memorized spell

Explosive runes
Runes explode; destroy parchment; 1d6 damage; Duration: caster negates at will; MU detects 1:2, negates 3:4

Invisible, immovable inter-dimensional space exact size of caster; duration: caster’s lvl + 1d6; + Prestidigitate: Hang rope in air = Rope trick

Combustion equivalent to ignited tender

Magic mouth
Up to 25 word vocal message issues from target object upon designated trigger condition

Perform any number of the following:
Catch arrow
Card trick (also: win gambling until discovered)
Cups & balls
Detach digit
Dis/reappear (small object)
Escape bonds (requires speech and sight of bonds)
Float pen (or similar object) b/w hands
Hang rope in air (+ Hidey-hole = Rope trick)
Link rings
Restore cut-rope

Charm willing subject

Alter shape and color of fire or increase and color smoke

Read person
Divine side, class, race, relative life-energy (normal/heroic/superheroic, etc.), close relations, core motive or goal of willing subject by means of one or more of cartomancy, scrying, palmistry, numerology, etc.

Agree with or to any one complete statement or command that does no obvious harm; successful save negates; Duration: 1 week

Voice issues elsewhere; Range: 6”; Duration: 2 turns

Thieves: Prestidigitate; Mesmerize; Read person; Suggest
I nerfed "explosive runes," in terms of damage, to make it fit into the "zeroth level" spell that a cantrip is supposed to be.

"Hidey-hole" lets a magic user hide for protection or snooping, but is not as powerful as invisibility as it is immovable.

"Ignite," and "Pyrotechnics," have always seemed like something all magic-users ought to have, automatically, without needing to burn a spell. Gandalf setting the pine cones on fire in the Hobbit gave me the inspiration for describing ignition as being like burning tender (so, more than just a spark, but not kindling and certainly no explosion!). And pyrotechnics in general is a Gandalf-thing.

"Magic mouth," and "Ventriloquy," and why not?

Okay, so I know what you are thinking. "Prestidigitate"? How lame? Who needs it? I see this as a part of the Sword and Sorcery feel. The new magician is invited into the court of the over-lord -- he wants some proof he has a real magician and the magic-user doesn't want to burn a memorized spell to prove himself. Some prestidigitation should do the trick. But, isn't all this just slight of hand? Is any real magic used? You decide. But I like the idea that a magic-user could join rings and use that as something really handy in a pinch! Gygax said, in the intro to D&D "and the magic is real." So there you go.

Okay, so, I know what you are thinking. "Willing subject?" Who would willingly submit themselves to a magic-user's whim with "Mesmerize" and "Read person." Well, judging from the real-world, quite a few raise their hand when the illusionist says, "can I get a volunteer." Imagine a Sword and Sorcery setting: the magician has been invited in to prove himself. He does some prestidigitation and impresses everyone in the court, even the high-lord. So, charmingly, he says, "Great Lord, would you like me to do a reading for you?" How could he refuse? He looks at the lord's palms, he lays out his tarot cards, and he finds out some choice information. That night, he reunites with the party, camping out in the woods out of sight and ear-shoot. He delivers the information they need to seal the attack. (Or did he? Well, the party will find out soon enough!)

"Suggest," allows for a kind of Obi-Wan-Kenobi "these are not the droids you are looking for" kind of effect.

Thieves, a la the Grey Mouser, can pull of some of these cantrips as well. Is his prestidigitation just a trick, while the magic-user's is real? I don't know. Why don't you ask him? I feel sure he will tell you the truth.

So, what do you think?

Fight on!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Character Record

The search or the ever elusive character record continues. Above is my current character record. Here is some brief rationale and commentary:

I want it too look old school, like something printed back in the day. Hence the boxes and the old school fonts. (I have an even smaller version, using a font that looks like a type-writer.)

I hate it when I find someone's character sheet and there is no player name on it. So I made that the first thing. I'm always bummed when people have no idea how long they've had a character (including me), so: problem solved.

By character description I really mean epithet(s) and extraction, not some "background." Hence the brevity of space.

I want this record to be usable by folks who have never played and by folks who have. I want it to be usable by players that roll their own dice and also to work well for situations where I play it really old-school and I roll all dice, for everyone, behind the screen. I love playing this way and it frees the players up to figure things out and role-play.

Thus "title" is more important than level. Titles are fun and interesting and aid role-play. The levels can be jotted down in parentheses for those interested.

Likewise knowing who's side you are on is easier to make sense of then "alignment." Also, when law vs. chaos is not much more than just "shirts vs. skins," we can avoid the unending philosophical contemplations of the nature of the "alignment system."

I play race as class in my 0e games, so I just list them in the same box with a slash mark.

The first five boxes can be read out pretty straightforwardly: John's Character is Jack the Fat-lipped of the Sundown Marches; he is a Veteran Lawful Fighting-Man.

Ability Scores, sum of 3d6, each, straight down the line, no funny-business. I use Delta's abbreviation of Charisma, "X," from the Greek Chi, thus distinguishing it from the "C," for constitution.

What the heck is "apotropy"? Okay, so I know you are mad at me about this. But remember the principle from above that I want this for new players and for folks who aren't even going to be rolling dice. Okay, I hear you say, now you've lost me. But hold on. Let's look at the other boxes and come back to this one.

Reading Philotomy's Musings on the nature of hit points got me trying to call them something else. I started calling them "luck points," you know: "you're down on your luck, man; your luck is running out!" Etc. I explained this to a group of folks that included three Ph.D.s in psychology. One of them said, "oh, I get it, it's resilience, isn't it?" "Yes," I said, "resilience points." And it just kind of stuck. But for those who know or want to work with the mechanics, there is "HP," right there, still listed to the side.

I use Delta's Target-20 method for both attack rolls and saving throws (see my house rules summary). Most new folks -- and all folks when I do all the rolling behind the screen -- only need to know what kind of weapons they have. If they tell me what weapon they are using and what they are trying to do with it, I can take it from there. But for those who want the old mechanic or demand to "roll their own," then the mechanic is right there next to it, "(HD)."

Likewise, players who don't want to have to fiddle with mechanics do like to know if they have armor on or not, and if so, what. And as long as they can read the handwriting and tell me what they've got, then I know their armor class anyway. Again, you can write the armor class right there next to it in parenthesis, as suggested by the "(AC)" immediately to the right of "Armor."

Every old-school character record needs to have a box for "languages." That is how you figure out what is going on behind that door you are "listening at"!

Gold. Well there you have it. I used to call this box "Treasure," and then list "Purse g.p.," and "Bank g.p." But then I would say, "Hey, how much gold do you have left." And they would say, "Gold? gold? Where is that on here?" So now, although the game is about Monsters and Treasure, the character record just boils it down to what we are all looking for: Gold (piece value). Because, well, gold is experience. And experience is everything.

Gold is next to Armor, above it. Because starting armor comes from starting gold. And Gold is next to Equipment (which is next to Supplies), below it. Because you buy equipment and supplies with gold. Nice, right?

That is something else I was going for with this record. I wanted things also to have a logical coherence. It is pretty good, but not perfect. So experience affects level, and thus title, which in turn affects hit die, which in turn affects hit points and even saves. So all those mechanical things are clustered together on the right side.

But I also did that on purpose. If you go straight down the right-most column you have everything that most players need most of the time. You already know your characters name (right?). So you can glance down the right side and see your character's: Title (Lvl.), Experience (XP), Resilience (HP), Armor (AC), and (most importantly), GOLD!

The first thing I suggest under "Notes," is that "Last Will & Testament," urged by Men & Magic.

All those supplies listed do not indicate that the character actually has them, yet, without purchase. Nor does it suggest that you must purchase those and only those. The idea is to help out the new players with some key suggestions. I always recommend that they place the amount they purchases in parentheses next to the item listed, and then use tally marks to count them down so that they know when they need to supply up again. So, for example, Torches (6), followed by tallies until all 6 are gone. Then, if you make it back alive, buy some more torches. Rope? I hear you ask. Yes, rope. Hemp romp gets 5 uses and silk rope gets 25. I'm just tough that way.

So how about that apotropy? Well, I thought you'd never ask. Now that I've convinced you that I've done a (pretty) good job of rendering mechanical things into handy nomenclature (Resilience, Weaponry, Armor, etc.), I can tell you that that is what I am trying to do with Apotropy. I had been calling it "Resistance," but it sounded to much like electrical engineering (or freedom fighting, or whatever). Apotropaic magic is magic that wards off magic and other unlucky things. These are like talismans, amulets and charms. So this is a place for folks to jot down apotropaic objects and spells they may have in place, like a ring of protection, or whatever -- and then remind me they have it so I can factor it in when I roll their saves behind the screen! Those who know, or want to know, what is going on still have "ST," for Saving Throw(s), listed there in parentheses immediately to the right. I use a single save, but other's could easily list all five if they wanted to. So, anyway, you may not be thrilled by my word choice, but, hopefully, you get what I was trying to do: give new folks and non-rollers a box that makes some sense that can double as a saving throw box for those who want it.

(If you like this and think you might want to use it, the full-sized photo is available for download on my Character Record page.)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Perilous Realms Campaign World Map

Above is my campaign-world map for the Perilous Realms medieval fantasy wargames campaign.

The Perilous Realms are my name for my own amalgamation of what I, in my limited knowledge, can amalgamate of various civilizations abstracted and anachronistically represented at their various heights but frozen somewhere between about 500 and 1,000 A.D. So, there is Aegyptus, but also the Holy Empire (Byzantium). There is Parthia (Persian), the great Central Kingdom (China), the Empire of the Sun (Japan), Shangri-La, Wudang, Old Araby, the Paladin Duchies of Westernesse, Logres, Libya, Nubia, Nod, and various wildernesses - even the Land of the Lost.

I base the map on some of the old Mappe Mundi of the ancient world, such as the following.

These were more detailed and "realistic" versions of the more abstract and theological Mappe Mundi that represented the three known continents in geometric and cosmographic relationship to each other. Note that these maps are "oriented": east is at the top of the map, as it is where the Sun rises.

Fight on!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Rolling Characters On-The-Fly

Armor, FM:

Weapons, FM: d6:
1 Magic Sword
2 Sword and Bow
3 Sword
4 Spear and Dagger
5 Club and Dagger
6 Club

Magic Sword on d6:
1 +3 Lightning
2-3 +2 Magic Missile
4-6 +1 Light

Armor, CL:

Weapons, CL:
High: mace
Low: club

CL: healing potion; turn undead (reminder)

MU d3:
1 Sleep
2 Charm
3 Light

Gold: 3d6, straight-up

Note: I used the above to roll-up the middle-schooler's characters on the fly so that I could drop them straight into play. It worked. Lots of fun.

Temple of Zaphron, Goddess of Frogs

Encounter Table d6
1-3    Kobolds      1d6
4-5    Skeletons    2d6
6       Merak

Merak the Unexpected
Phantasmal Forces

HD1/2 AC7 MV6
Formation: Shields, Spears, Darts

HD1/2 AC7 MV6
Shields, helmets, spears
Reassemble unless burned / crushed

1 Treasure Chamber

Pit trap, 10' immediately before the door

Chest, Treasure, Small, poison-needle on latch
1,500gp steel ring with adamant stone; weight 100pcs
2 Medium Diamonds 100 each (200 total); 4 Small Diamonds 50 each (200 total); 6 Small Rubies 50 each (300 total); 2 Small Pearls 50 each (100 total); 4 Small Sapphires 50 each (200 total); 2 Small Opals 50 each (100 total); gems total value 1Kgp; weight 200pcs
300gp; 400sp; total pcs value 500gp; weight 700pcs
Total value: 3Kgp
Total weight: 1Kpcs

Shield +1
Chainmail +1
Helmet +1
Sword +1: Windbiter (Common)
    Int: 8 Ego: 3, Empathy
    Detect Magic
    Detect Metal & What Kind
Dagger +1
Bow +1
Potion of Heroism
Potion of Invisibility
Scroll Protection Undead

2 Trick Exit Room

Two levers to left of large locked double doors
Lever Left Up: Green
Lever Right Up: Blue
Left  Down / Right Up: Green Lightning bolt
Left up / Right Down: Door open + Green Lightning bolt
Left Down / Right Down: Door open (no lightning)

3 Hidden Treasure Vault

Bucket, Acid, above secret door: avoidable if look up before entry

Chest, Treasure, Locked, Large
5K Brass Urn Studded with Tiger’s Eyes; weight 100pcs
Large Emerald 500gp; 4 Medium Diamonds 100each (400gp total); 2 Medium Topaz 50each (100gp total); total gems value: 1Kgp; weight 70pcs
1Kgp; 2Ksp; 4Kcp; total pcs value: 3Kgp; weight 7Kpcs
Total value: 9Kgp
Total weight: 7,170pcs

4 Connection

Empty: straw, mud
Merak flees through this room, gone by the time PCs unstick the door.

5 Tapestry Hall

Tapestry of Frog God Zaphron shooting green lightning bolts.
Unknown language says poem about Zaphron.

6 Merak’s Study

Merak (see above) attacks (if party noisy, Protection, from scroll, before arrival):
Sleep; Polymorph; Lightning; Phantasmal Forces
Leaves immediately upon taking damage: skips to phantasmal force as distraction; door stuck behind him.

Desk, chair, chez lounge, ash tray with cigar, side table with brandy snifter and glass; on Desk:

Parchment, ink-well, quill
lvl1 spell book, complete
Scroll Protection Magic
Scroll, Arcane: Detect Evil, Wizard Lock, Dispell Magic
Books, 3: Astrologous Minor, Herbiary Infernum, Amphibicon
Map to treasure: 3. Hidden Vault

7 Sanctuary of Zaphron

Door behind idol, stuck

Idol of hollow clay painted gold with two emerald eyes:
1K; 1K “The Eyes of Zaphron;” Magnetically attracted to one another; weight 100pcs each, 200pcs total

Pedestal triggers successive portcullises if treasure disturbed

Treasure chest with giant emerald latch serves as contribution basin
1K emerald latch (part of cask)
3K Frog Crown: Green Gold with Aquamarines; weight 100pcs
300gp; 300sp; 300cp; total pcs value: 525gp; weight 900pcs
Total value: 6,525gp
Total weight: 1,200pcs

Brazier of green fire
Doors, double, stuck

Portcullises left and right, two
Top left: empty; Bottom left: kobolds; Top right: skeletons; bottom right: empty


Just ran this for a middle school D&D club. I started them off in the main sanctuary, having already triggered the trap with kobolds bearing down. Instant combat. Had their attention! We rolled character information as we needed it! (I'll post how I did that in next post.) Next session: they explored and found the treasures / tricks. Final session: extraction with encumbrance issues (lucky kids had no random encounters!) Then we discussed character creation.

So, I went "backwards," and now they are hooked!

Next up: referees Workshop: Part I. Presenting; Part II. Preparing.

Fight on!