Sunday, May 1, 2022



Frontloaded vs Backloaded settings

There is, in my opinion, a mild schism (among the major schisms) in the OSR regarding setting construction: Greyhawk and Blackmoor get shat upon for being “vanilla D&D” or “generic” while a revolving cast of flavor-of-the-month settings that describe themselves as “weird” or “gonzo” are held up as masterpieces. I care not for your reviews of published settings but rather wish to extrapolate on my own meditations.

First, “frontloaded settings” must be defined, as their existence is dualistic with backloaded settings. These are settings that are strange and outre from the very outset, possibly even from character creation or even the introduction: McKinney’s Carcosa, noisms’ Yoon-Suin, or Gibbons’ Bx Mars are what I consider to be good examples of such types of settings. The worlds are alien; cultures are weird; demi-humans are either replaced or deleted; science, pseudo-science, and science fiction cast a shadow over them. They are testaments to creative genii, yet their own alien novelty forms a barrier to play: Of what use dungeon delves and GP when most of Carcosa languishes at a neolithic level?  What of crab-man’s inhumanity to man? What if I don’t want to play someone who’s naked all the time?

The solution is pretty obvious: “Just change it.” Or rather “(you, the referee, can) just change it.” Which is true, but this puts all the burden on the referee AND undermines the whole reason for using a published setting in the first place (so the referee doesn’t have to do the hard work).

Now, there are “backloaded settings”, sometimes called “generic” settings: The ones with the kings and knights and castles and orcs and dragons and not-quite-medieval civilizations. This is where Gygax’s Greyhawk and Arneson’s Blackmoor started. But they didn’t end there: They changed, they EVOLVED based on player decisions (some of those players even being the creators themselves!). Those historical timelines have some referee-created trivia but the important parts are all because of player actions.

But even then, Blackmoor and Greyhawk weren’t as vanilla as claimed, there were aliens and magic apocalypses and weird shit. To go full D&Dcore, turning everything into the same diluted and flavorless melange, is something you can do with WOTC D&D or a host of other alleged competitors, and should be avoided. The balance is between the two, I think, vanilla enough to facilitate immediate player engagement but with sufficient indelible weirdness from the referee’s own mind to add excitement. But above all, the referee must be willing to allow the EVOLUTION of his setting based on player actions.


Player Agency vs Setting Integrity

The previous point rolls into this one. I recall many years ago, WOTC had a regular online advice column called Jedi Counseling for their Star Wars RPG (at the time, the Revised edition, which was also technically my first RPG), written by one Sarli. A flustered GM laid out the situation: The game was set at roughly the same time as A New Hope (0 BBY or Space Year 1977) and his party had decided to punch in the coordinates for Yavin IV (the big Rebel base in the climax) for unspecified reasons. Sarli’s solution was to have them wind up at the fake Rebel base named early in the film or arrive at the actual base after the Death Star had been blown up and the Rebels fled. Why did this GM even need to ask what to do? Why did Sarli reply with that? Because if the party got there and killed Luke or seduced Leia or jumped in X-Wing and blown up the Death Star or awakened Sith ghosts (press F for the pre-Disney EU) then they wouldn’t be playing a Star Wars game anymore, they’d be playing a Star Wars AU fanfic game because the setting changed irreversibly (if/until time travel became canon). It’s the tightrope you walk with established settings, especially those derived from media: The group wants to play in the setting but if changes are allowed then, sooner or later, they will no longer being playing in the setting.

But I believe this problem extends beyond published settings into homebrew settings. This is, I think, the root of the old “you shouldn’t stat gods because the PCs will kill them” mindset, not some true ideological take on the nature of divinity but a pre-emptive petulance about the players not appreciating the hard work that the GM making these (unnecessarily) complex characters.

Player agency, the ability for the players to freely act, goes hand-in-hand with consequences. Yes, the party can jump to Yavin IV and TRY murk Luke, but how will they cope with both the Rebels and Papa Vader seeking vengeance? They can storm Olympus and TRY kill every god in the place while stealing all the loot, but how do they deal with the things the Olympians were keeping under control? Give the players a rope and see if they tangle (or hang) themselves . . . or someone else.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

My dog died


 It sucks to lose the only person who loved you unconditionally and never betrayed me. He fought to the bitter end, he was so brave and strong. He was in my arms when he gave up his spirit.

R.I.P. Spider


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

What I would like to run

 It's been a while. I've been through some exciting stuff since I last posted. The woman I though loved me and my money turned out just to love my money, my family has gone from wanting me to get a job and move out to not get a job and stay, I quit work twice, and my dog is dying of cancer. I probably should euthanize him but he's fighting; I'd rather respect his struggles and help him against the inevitable. Of course, once he dies (which should only be a few more months now), I have no real reason to live with my family anymore so I plan on becoming a drifter/homeless. 

So, if I were not about to become an American Nomad, I would start an open table D&D game at my LGS.

· The ruleset would be either Holmes or Moldvay Basic D&D. Retroclones may be easier to access and "readable" but from an advert perspective, any version of D&D is going to draw more interest than a knock-off of Old D&D.

· The setting would be built around B2 and Geoff McKinney's Mikeverse (Mike's Dungeons, Mike's Dungeons: The Deep Levels, Mike's Wilderness: The Forsaken Wilderness Beyond).

· About 6 1st-level pregens (for dungeons) and 6 5th-level pregens (for wilderness) who would be reserved for drop-in/new/first-timer players. New ones would be created as the pregens get killed off or level up.

· Taking a page from Mutants & Magic, both characters and players gain XP, although this is tracked separately. This rewards people who tend to drop in a lot but want to make their own characters later. 

I'm seriously considering running even with my gloomy future looming. At least it'd kill some time, right?

Sunday, August 30, 2020

What I did for Gygax Day: B1 Stocking Notes

July 27th is recognized as Gygax Day in some circles so I figured I'd run a session of D&D using B1 to celebrate. It just took me a while to get around to writing a post about it.

The deadliest encounter of the session

Stocking the Dungeon: Instead of the normal B1 lists I used the 1e DMG and Fiend Folio, checking for room contents while altering and ignoring results that seemed whack. The stocking process took me about 4 non-continuous hours. The results are found below:

1. 1 Bullywug with a sword

Notes: The deadliest encounter of the whole night, the high AC + surprise chance + hopping is a lot stronger than you would think


3. 8 Giant rats


4. 1 Cerebral Parasite

Notes: Since there were no psionic chracters in the party, the parasite would have drained 1 point of Charisma per turn if it had been encountered.


7. 1 Anhkeg

Silver ring with 6 opals worth 6000 gp

825 gp

Notes: The DMG has a fairly robust jewelry generator, the only problem is that its separated into three or four section fair from each other.


9. 1000 cp


10. 100 pp


12. 3 Bullywugs

2 aquamarines worth 550 gp each


13. 5 kobolds

1100 cp

825 sp

14. 4 fire beetles

20. 250 gp

26. 750 cp

28. 1 Tween

Notes: Fiend Folio is based.

30. 250 gp

31. 1000 sp

32. 1000 sp

36. 3 Troglodytes

275 gp

825 ep

Notes: A randomly generated encounter supported by the pre-written rumor table? More likely than you think.

38. 500 gp

39. 3 Gnolls

42. 2000 sp

46. 4 giant centipedes

47. 2000 cp

48. 1 Forlarren

49. 2 giant frogs

53. 4 volts

Notes: I could not see this encounter ending any way other than a TPK.


55. 200 pp

Here ends my key for B1 - In Search of The Unknown


The party ended up TPKing after 3 real life hours/55 in-game minutes.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Writing an OSR(?) game from memory, The End: Admitting defeat and post-mortem

I'm throwing in the towel here. Not the first time (nor the last) for me, but at least this time I can articulate my reasons.
1. The muse has left me.
2. I work full-time.
3. Because of my self-imposed don't "reference any material" handicap I have a lot of stuff I want to read that I couldn't.

That said, I think this challenge works best for those with a lot of free time or still quarantine. And even with my failure, I did learn what parts of the rules I need to brush up on.

Time for analysis. 

Despite my intent to channel LBB, it looks like most of my ability score mechanics are based on Labyrinth Lord. The exception is Dex which is exactly as the LBB. The HP modifiers for Con are a little different (perhaps, the LBB are ambiguous). My XP modifier curve is somewhere between that of the LBB (+/- 10-20%) and LL (+/- 5-10%). The loyalty numbers would later cause some issues.

My alignment chart is based on the LBB's, even down to underlined creatures being chaotic or neutral. Halflings were made Neutral/Lawful because I wanted to fill the "small underground guy" niche for all three alignments (which Gygax made no effort to do, looking over the LBB). Orcs and Ogres being Chaotic/Neutral is one of my favorite parts of the LBB since it justifies a non-confrontational approach with them. Cavemen being Lawful are because of an old idea of them being the Lawful equivalent of the modern Orc - loyal to their alignment but brutal and not very bright. The Judicator is my off-brand version of the Justicar. The Balor replaces the Balrog. Dragons appear in all three columns because I had planned on adding a Neutral breed: Probably a half-remembered version of the Cloud or new versions of Brown or Gray.

My Dwarves getting to advance up to level 7 as fighters is 1 level more than permitted by the LBB. Dwarf clerics and Gnome M-Us are consciously backported AD&Disms. The Gnomes are a little different here because they're based on the LBB versions (hill-dwelling Dwarves).

To quote EGG: "Zounds!" I totally screwed up the F-M/M-U ratios of Elf level limits. The Anti-cleric being available to them is inspired by Three Hearts & Three Lions, Morrowind, and Warhammer's Dark Elves.

I gave Halflings 2 fighter levels over the LBB max. The Shaman is just because the other two races have a divine option so why not hobbits?

Although I got the XP requirements for 2nd level right, my fighter advances much faster, reaching level 9 at 16000 xp as opposed to the LBB's 24000 xp. I also cap HD at 9+6 (another LLism) whereas the a 12th-level Lord in LBB has 11+1 HD. My THAC0 progression is oddly sluggish. Saves are a lot harsher than both LBB and LL.

My M-Us progress almost half as fast for levels 2-3 then suddenly rush forward compared to the LBB. I seem to have been inspired by a mix of LL and 3e for the numbers of spells, although mine gives more than either. Saves and THAC0 are wrong (again).

Clerics (and their variants) all progress slower than their LBB counterparts. The Shaman exists because I like the concept of Neutral nature clerics but loath D&D Druids ever since I started with 3e.
The spell progression is mostly the same as LBB and LL but I hand out more spells, including a 6th-level  one. Saves and THAC0 are wrong (again). My turning tables combine my recurring problem of slower initial growth followed by runaway inflation.

Part 3

I somehow got the price of daggers dead-on for both LL and LBB. The special abilities of axes, daggers, and spears (treated as polearms) are from the LBB. The leather-chain-plate model is from the LBB. I can't believe I forgot the costs for armor.

Part 4

The four categories of encumbrance/movement is from LL and 2e. The monster spotting rules for encounters are hazily lifted from 1e. The reaction tables are either my own homebrew or taken from some anonymous homebrew. The structure of combat rounds is from LL. Now, morale/loyalty is a funny story: When I wrote the loyalty numbers in Part 1 I wasn't really thinking clearly so I gave out numbers which exceed LBB/B/X/1e morale but fit perfectly with 2e morale. Why? I don't know.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Writing an OSR(?) game from memory, Part 4: Encumbrance, exploration, encounters, combat, morale

This is a lot harder than I thought it would be and, as usual, I'm losing interest. Perhaps I shall make one last valiant effort to complete the Men & Magic portion of the rules.


Encumbrance represents the effect of weight carried. In general, the starting tools, sundries, and worn armor carried into the dungeon or wilderness are not weighed and tallied but weapons, additional armor, and any items acquired during expeditions ARE tallied.

Weights cause characters to move more slowly: For characters wearing armor, use the worst of the two movement values below (for example, a character wearing plate but carrying less than 50 lbs has a combat speed of 30')
Weight Carried | Combat Speed | Exploration Speed
less than 50 lbs | 40' | 120'
50-100 lbs | 30' | 90'
101-150 lbs | 20' | 60'
151-200 lbs | 10' | 30'
more than 200 lb* | 5' | 15'
*The referee may rule that certain weights or unwieldy masses allow no movement whatsoever.

Encounters & Exploration

Time is the essential factor of the game. The referee should obtain a calendar of some sort to track days, weeks, and months accurately. Smaller, but no less important, units of time include the round (1 minute) and the turn (10 minutes). Rounds are mostly used to track time in combat while turns are used to track exploration. It is assumed that a party will move as fast as its slowest member in order to maintain formation and defense; if a full retreat is being enacted then no such compulsion exists.

Encounters (Wandering Monsters)
For every two turns spent exploring, there is a 1-in-6 chance that a random encounter will occur. These encounters may be native monsters, invaders, or other adventurers. The monster will be up to 2d6x10 feet away in dungeons or yards in the wilderness; randomly determine its point of entry, ignoring illogical routes such as the empty room the party just left. Note that more encounters can occur during combats due to either third parties or reinforcements.

If the party does not have lights in the dungeon or is in the wilderness during active hours, both sides have a 2-in-6 chance of being surprised.
If the party does have lights  in the dungeon or is in the wilderness during resting hours, the encounter only has a 1-in-6 chance to be surprised while the party has the normal 2-in-6 chance of being surprised.
The referee may rule that particularly large, reckless, or conspicuous groups have no chance of surprising opponents. Surprised opponents are essentially helpless for one round. Note that some enemies will have reduced or increased chances of being surprised based on other factors: If the Knights of The Fang know the party is the west wing of Castle Carmine, they only have a 1-in-6 chance of being surprised upon finding the party; if the know the party is trapped in the Anti-Temple, the Knights will not be surprised; and if the party some manages to out with the Knights and encounters the neophytes performing cursory duties in the East Wing they have a 3-in-6 chance of being surprised.

Not all encounters, even those between Lawfuls and Chaotics, need be combat. In some cases, a reaction will be obvious; Retainers of the Baronet who sponsors the party should have no reason to attack unless they or the party are traitors; Hobgoblins have no reason to be friendly and every reason to attack a party who has penetrated their warrens. When the referee has no strong idea of how an encountered character will react, he should roll below, applying the reaction modifier of the party member with the highest Charisma (unless the party wishes to nominate someone else as their "face").

2d6 | Reaction | Possible Actions
2-3| Hostile | Attack, offer horrible deal
4-5| Unfriendly | Insult, draw weapons, offer bad deal
6-7| Indifferent | Ignore, offer normal deal
8-9 | Unsure | Observe, retreat, hide
10-11| Friendly | Non-combat aid, offer good deal
12| Helpful | Combat aid, offer great deal

The referee may wish to make adjustments to the reaction roll based on biases: An anti-cleric may not immediately attack a cleric but it will sour his demeanor, while a judicator may put a whole party to the sword due the presence of an anti-cleric.


Combat Structure
Combat is joined when the party attacks or is attacked. The order of combat is as follows:
S1. Determine surprise
S2. Unsurprised sides declare actions
S2a. Roll initiative (1d6) for each unsurprised side if there are multiple; the highest scoring side acts first
S3. Unsurprised movement occurs
S4. Unsurprised ranged attacks occur
S5. Unsurprised spells occur
S6. Unsurprised melee attacks occur
S7. Once all unsurprised sides have acted, normal combat begins
1. All sides declare actions
2. Roll initiative (1d6) for each side; the highest scoring side acts first
3. Movement occurs
4. Ranged attacks occur
5. Spells occur
6. Melee attacks occur
7. Repeat until slaughter, surrender, ceasefire, or retreat

Morale & Loyalty
Even among monsters, few will fight to the death. Monsters have morale while henchmen have loyalty: Both are fundamentally the same.
Monsters check morale when 30% or more of their group are dead or if they only have 30% or less hp remaining; they will flee if possible or surrender if unable.
Henchmen check loyalty when 30% or more of their party are dead, if they only have 30% or less hp remaining, or if their leader is reduced to 25% or less hp; they will flee if possible or surrender if unable. Henchmen automatically fall loyalty checks if their leader dies.
To check morale or loyalty, roll 2d10: If the result is equal or lower then the character acts normally.
As always, the referee may modify morale scores to reflect circumstances: A group who knows there is no escape and that they will be killed even if they surrender is likely to fight to the last.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Writing an OSR(?) game from memory, Part 3: Equipment

A much shorter post this time. I'll probably break spells into two posts.


Characters start with 3d6x10 gold pieces (gp). 10 gp weigh 1 lb.
1 gold piece = 10 silver pieces (sp) = 100 copper pieces (cp)

Melee Weapons
Weapon | Cost | Weight |Special
Axe  | 10 gp | 8 lb | Can be thrown up to 10'
Club | 2 gp | 6 lb | Made of wood
Dagger | 3 gp | 1 lb | Can be thrown up to 10', easily concealed, short reach
Greatsword | 20 gp | 15 lb | +2 damage, must be wielded with both hands
Mace | 8 gp | 8 lb | -
Spear | 9 gp | 8 lb | Double damage if hitting a charging target, can be used to attack from the second rank
Staff | 2 gp | 5 lb | Made of wood
Sword | 8 gp | 7 lb | -

Ranged Weapons
Weapon | Cost | Weight | Range | Special
Bow | 10 gp | 7 lb | 100' | Requires two hands to nock and shoot
-10 arrows | 1 gp | 1 lb
Crossbow | 15 gp | 12 lb  | 50' | +2 to damage, takes one round to reload
-10 bolts | 1 gp | 1 lb
Sling | 5 sp | 0.5 lb | 50' | Can be "fired" with one hand
-10 stones | 1sp* | 0.5 lb
*Cost to hire someone else to find stones. A character may instead spend 1 turn searching for stones, which will find 1d4-1 (0-3) usable stones.

Armor type | AC | Weight | Movement
None | 9 | - | 40' per round / 120' per turn
Leather | 7 | 10 lb | 40' per round / 120' per turn
Chain | 5 | 25 lb | 30' per round / 90' per turn
Plate | 3 | 60 lb | 30' per round / 90' per turn
Shield | * | 5 lb | - |  -
*Shields improve AC by 1 point; no armor + shield = AC 8, leather + shield = AC 6, etc.

Other equipment and tools
Item | Cost | Weight | Notes
Backpack | 5 gp | 2 lb | Can hold about 40 lb/400 coins Candle | 1 cp | - | Illuminates 10' radius, 5-in-6 chance to be blown out by strong wind, etc.
Hammer | 1 sp | 1 lb | -2 to hit and damage
Holy symbol | 1 sp | 0.5 lb | Used by clerics, shamans, and anti-clerics
Holy water | 10 gp | 0.5 lb | Deals 2d6 to undead and demons, delays onset of regular diseases for 1d6 days and supernatural diseases for 1d6 turns Iron spike | 1 sp | 1 lb | -2 to hit and damage
Lantern | 1 gp | 2 lb | Illuminates 30' radius, 1-in-6  chance to be blown out by strong wind, etc.
Manacles | 10 gp | 5 lb | Includes keyPole, 10' | | 10 lb | Can be used as a weapon with -2 to hit and damage
Rations, iron | 3 sp | 2 lb | Enough cured food to last 1 day, 1-in-6 chance to distract intelligent monsters if dropped
Rations, trail | 3 sp| 2 lb | Enough fresh food to last 1 day, 1-in-6 chance to distract unintelligent monsters if dropped
Rope, 50'  | 1 gp | - | Can hold up to 300 lb if properly secured
Sack, large | 1 gp | 1 lb | Can hold about 20 lb/200 coins
Sack, small | 2 sp | 0.5 lb | Can hold about 10 lb/100 coins
Torch | 1 sp | 1 lb | Illuminates 30' radius, 3-in-6 chance  to be blown out by strong wind, etc.
Wheelbarrow | 10 gp | 20 lb | Can hold about 200 lb/2000 coins, requires two hands to push