Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Improved Wilderness Map

I told myself last night that was going to quit messing with it for a while, but today I couldn't help making significant aesthetic and functional improvements to the wilderness map for my forthcoming 0e/LBB retro-clone, Torch & Sword. Here's the map PDF. The map is © Paul Gorman, and licensed under both the OGL 1a and the Creative Commons Attribution License—take your pick.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wilderness map

Seeing as copies of Outdoor Survival are in short supply these days, I spent a big chunk of today drawing a wilderness hex map for my forthcoming retro-clone, Torch & Sword. I'll probably refine it a little for the final rulebook, but feel free to take a look at this one page map PDF: The map is © Paul Gorman, and licensed under both the OGL 1a and the Creative Commons Attribution License—take your pick.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


These recently discovered caves in Vietnam are inspirational:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'm still alive

I haven't abandoned this blog, despite the recent lack of posts. Work has been insanely busy, so I decided to concentrate my scarce free time working on my Torch & Sword retro-clone project rather than blogging. I'm on vacation now, but aiming to release an alpha version of Torch & Sword by the end of the year. Posts may not be a daily occurrence for a while yet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Treasure type averages

Although I haven't posted much lately, work on my retro-clone continues. Today I started looking at treasure types. Here's how I got the averages in the table below. Take the gold in treasure type E as an example. Page 22 of Monsters & Treasure lists it as "1-8: 25%". So, I assumed that the average roll would be 4, giving 4000 GP. Those gold pieces would only be found 25% of the time, so that 4000 GP is reduced to 1000 GP. I did the same for copper and silver, and added them to the GP value.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Missing monsters

I spent a little time yesterday checking monsters in the d20 SDR. Apart from a handful of spelling variations, all the creatures in Monsters & Treasure appear in the d20 SDR. Eventually, I found green slime and yellow mold in the dungeon hazards section of the SDR, rather than the monster lists. I was happy to find them, as I thought I might have to substitute some real-world or mythological monster. The "snotties" found in Cueva de Villa Luz would make a reasonable real-world substitute for green slime. I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) they are archaea, a biological group that includes organism living in volcanoes and other extreme environments.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Upkeep costs

James Maliszewski posted about OD&D support and upkeep costs. I had been wondering about the frequency of payments myself, and assumed that upkeep was paid on a recurring basis. As migellito says in the comments to James' post, paying upkeep costs at the time XP is awarded is the most parsimonious interpretation, and therefore the most appealing to me. That works to simply bookkeeping for food, lodging, maintenance, etc. If, on the other hand, the referee wants to use upkeep costs as a stick to drive characters toward play focused on establishing and maintaining baronies, upkeep fees should be assessed more frequently, perhaps on a weekly or monthly basis.

Friday, November 12, 2010

OD&D spell names vs d20 SDR spell names (part 3)

1st Level Spells
1. Cure Light Wounds1. 〃
2. Detect Evil 2. 〃
3. Detect Magic 3. 〃
4. Light 4. 〃
5. Protection/Evil 5. Protection from Evil
6. Purify Food & Water6. Purify Food and Drink
2nd Level Spells
1. Bless 1. 〃
2. Find Traps 2. 〃
3. Hold Person 3. 〃
4. Speak with Animals4. 〃
3rd Level Spells
1. Continual Light1. Continual Flame
2. Cure Disease 2. Remove Disease
3. Locate Object 3. 〃
4. Remove Curse 4. 〃
4th Level Spells
1. Create Water 1. 〃
2. Cure Serious Wounds 2. 〃
3. Neutralize Poison 3. 〃
4. Protection/Evil 10' r.4. Magic Circle against Evil
5. Speak with Plants 5. 〃
6. Turn Sticks to Snakes 6. No clear d20 SDR equivalent
5th Level Spells
1. Commune 1. 〃
2. Create Food 2. Create Food and Water
3. Dispell Evil3. Dispel Evil
4. Insect Plague 4. 〃
5. Quest 5. Geas/Quest
6. Raise Dead 6. 〃

Thursday, November 11, 2010

OD&D spell names vs d20 SDR spell names (part 2)

Here are the rest of the rest of the OD&D magic-user spells with their closest d20 SDR equivalents. (Here's Part 1.)
4th Level Spells
1. Charm Monster 1. 〃
2. Confusion 2. 〃
3. Dimension Door 3. 〃
4. Growth/Plant 4. Plant Growth
5. Hallucinatory Terrain5. 〃
6. Massmorph 6. No clear d20 SDR equivalent
7. Polymorph Others 7. Polymorph
8. Polymorph Self 8. Polymorph
9. Remove Curse 9. 〃
10. Wall of Fire 10. 〃
11. Wall of Ice 11. 〃
12. Wizard Eye 12. Arcane Eye
5th Level Spells
1. Animate Dead 1. 〃
2. Cloudkill 2. 〃
3. Conjure Elemental 3. Summon Monster VII
4. Contact Higher Plane4. Contact Other Plane
5. Feeblemind 5. 〃
6. Growth/Animal 6. Animal Growth
7. Hold Monster 7. 〃
8. Magic Jar 8. 〃
9. Pass-Wall 9. Passwall
10. Telekenesis 10. 〃
11. Teleport 11. 〃
12. Transmute Rock-Mud 12. Transmute Rock to Mud
13. Wall of Iron 13. 〃
14. Wall of Stone 14. 〃
6th Level Spells
1. Anti-Magic Shell 1. Antimagic Field
2. Control Weather 2. 〃
3. Death Spell 3. Circle of Death
4. Disintegrate 4. 〃
5. Geas 5. Geas/Quest
6. Invisible Stalker6. Summon Monster VII
7. Lower Water 7. Control Water
8. Move Earth 8. 〃
9. Part Water 9. No clear d20 SDR equivalent
10. Projected Image 10. Mirror Image
11. Reincarnation 11. Reincarnate
12. Stone-Flesh 12. Stone to Flesh and Flesh to Stone

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

OD&D spell names vs d20 SDR spell names (part 1)

I'm still working on my clone project. As part of that, I've been comparing the spells in OD&D against those in the d20 SDR. Here are the first half of the magic-user spells with their closest SDR equivalents. I'll post more in the next few days.
1st Level Spells
1. Charm Person 1. 〃
2. Detect Magic 2. 〃
3. Hold Portal 3. 〃
4. Light 4. 〃
5. Protection/Evil5. Protection from Evil
6. Read Languages 6. Comprehend Languages
7. Read Magic 7. 〃
8. Sleep 8. 〃
2nd Level Spells
1. Continual Light 1. Continual Flame
2. Detect Evil 2. 〃
3. Detect Invisible 3. See Invisiblity
4. ESP 4. Detect Thoughts
5. Invisibility 5. 〃
6. Knock 6. 〃
7. Levitate 7. 〃
8. Locate Object 8. 〃
9. Phantasmal Forces9. Major Image
10. Wizard Lock 10. Arcane Lock
3rd Level Spells
1. Clairaudience 1. Clairaudience/Clairvoyance
2. Clairvoyance 2. Clairaudience/Clairvoyance
3. Dispell Magic 3. Dispel Magic
4. Fire Ball 4. Fireball
5. Fly 5. 〃
6. Haste Spell 6. Haste
7. Hold Person 7. 〃
8. Infravision 8. Darkvision
9. Invisibility, 10' r. 9. Invisibility Sphere
10. Lightning Bolt 10. 〃
11. Protection/Evil, 10' r. 11. Magic Circle against Evil
12. Protection/Normal Missiles12. Protection from Arrows
13. Slow Spell 13. Slow
14. Water Breathing 14. 〃

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I like James Maliszewski's take on D&D anti-clerics as secret demon cultists. It tickles my fancy for 70's horror (Kolchak, Rosemary's Baby, The Wicker Man, The Devil Rides Out, etc.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Level titles

I was thinking about level titles—that they could be customized to reflect the flavor of a particular campaign. Myrmidon is already one of the class names, but if you had a game with a strong Homeric flavor, you could name all the fighting-men levels after Greek tribes. Another possibility is to name each level for the character of that class in your campaign who first achieves said level. If Frankfort is the first cleric to make it to level 3, level 3 is thereafter called Frankfort.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A misreading of Law and Chaos

It seems that the OD&D alignment system is based largely on Three Hearts and Three Lions, which I'm about half way through reading at the moment.

I had been thinking (wrongly, it turns out) that the Law and Chaos dichotomy might be linked to the game's wargaming roots. I could imagine that Law and Chaos might not be nebulous, cosmic forces, but opposed factions of a particular struggle in a particular time and place.

For example, in the milieu of the American Civil War, the Lawful faction would be the Union, and the Chaotic faction would be the Confederacy. States which did not declare for one side or the other, such as Kentucky prior to Polk's invasion of Columbus, would be Neutral. It would work the same for the French Revolution, War of the Roses, or Hatfield–McCoy feud. In wargaming terms, Law, Chaos, and Neutrality would be generic categories used to describe a conflict. Neutral factions could become Lawful or Chaotic by declaring an allegiance, and in victory the Chaotic faction would become de facto Lawful by gaining power.

Bringing that to D&D would mean PC's taking sides (or remaining neutral) in the dominant conflict of their time and place. Such a view of alignment strips it of metaphysical trappings, and ties PC's to their campaign world.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


On page 13 of Men & Magic, it says:
"The referee may allow players to designate one relative of his character to inherit his possessions if for any reason the participnt unexpectedly disappears, or with or without "death" being positively established, for a period of one game month, let us say. [...] If the character returns, he takes possession of his estate once more (referee's option as to willingness of the relative to give it up) but must pay an additional 10% tax in order to regain his own. Optionally the relative may be allowed to stay on as a non-player character in the service of the player-character. Loyalty of the relative in such a circumstance would be at a penalty of from 0 to -6, and he would possibly intrigue to regain control. Characters without a relative will lose all their possession should they disappear and not return before whatever period is designated as establishing death."
Willing possession to a new, related character became a familiar part of later D&D as a way to give a player's new character a little boost after his old one died, but the "unexpectedly disappears" bit strikes me a strange. The soap operatic return of a character believed dead is even odder. I suspect that the intention with this rule has more to do with the disappearance of a player that the disappearance of a character.

 When you have, as Men & Magic says, up to fifty(!) players rotating in and out of a campaign, it's inevitable that a few of those people will drop out of the game, and that they may or may not eventually return. What happens to their character? What happens to the juicy and important treasure maps in that character's possession? Declare the character dead, and give all his stuff to a new character controlled by a player who can show up for a game once in a while. If the truant player later returns to the campaign, then you have the possibility of intrigue between the characters.

I wonder how this would work in practice. When declaring a relative, would the player prearrange matters with another player in the event he missed a few games, or would the DM accumulate a collection of relative NPC's he could dole out to any player whose character died? (This is one of those things where it's difficult for me to gauge whether this interpretation was already obvious to everyone except me, or if I'm just completely misreading it.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Outdoor Survival

Underworld & Wilderness Adventures recommends using the board from Avalon Hill's 1972 board game Outdoor Survival for a wilderness map. Here's the Boardgame Geek page for Outdoor Survival, which includes pictures of the game. The playing board is marked by a hexagonal grid, sized 34 x 43 hexes. The map includes various terrain types, such as woods, desert, mountains, and swamps. Nine buildings and twenty-four catch-basins dot the map. U&WA says to use the buildings as towns, and the catch-basins as castles. Some of those castles would be ruins, others not. This seems to be the assumed starting area for a campaign. Hexes are assumed to be five miles across. A man on foot can cross three hexes per day, depending upon terrain type. A "light" horse (40gp) can cross 10 hexes a day. So, a party might reasonably be able to cross the map from corner to corner in about a week. That seems like a manageable starting point. Have you used the Outdoor Survival map for a campaign?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Classics Appendix N

In the original Appendix N, and in personal appendixes N from various OSR blogs, contemporary and modern fantastic literature dominates the reading list. Given the selection you'll find in a bookstore's fantasy section, that's not surprising, but I wonder what an Appendix N would include if limited to pre-1900 literature?
  • Arabian Nights
  • Beowulf
  • Voltaire's Candide
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
  • Cervantes' Don Quixote
  • Stoker's Dracula
  • Grimm's Fairy Tales
  • Spenser's Faerie Queen
  • Goethe's Faust
  • Gilgamesh
  • Machen's The Great God Pan
  • Swift's Gulliver's Travels
  • Homer's Iliad
  • Dante's Inferno
  • Ovid's Metamorphoses
  • Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur
  • Homer's Odyssey
  • Edgar Allan Poe's short stories
  • Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen
  • The Song of Roland
  • Stevenson's Treasure Island
A D&D campaign drawn from this Appendix N would have a distinctive flavor, although you could find a basis for many of the traditional D&D tropes in those pages.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just arrived!

Three Hearts and Three Lions hardcover book UPDATE: jacket design by Edward Gorey.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What do hit points represent?

Talysman posted a meditation on hit points on Sunday.

I've always understood hit points to abstract not merely bodily intactness, but also stamina, luck, concentration, and so forth.

On page 18, Men & Magic defines hit points as "the number of points of damage the character could sustain before death. Whether sustaining accumulative hits will otherwise affect a character is left to the discretion of the referee." The description for Cure Light Wounds says the spell "will remove hits from a wounded character[....] A die is rolled, one pip added, and the resultant total subtracted from the hits points the character has taken." That would seem to establish a very narrow definition of hit points indicating a capacity to survive wounds, and not a measure of stamina, luck, etc.

However, a few other passages in the LBB's hint that hit points may sometimes reflect more than wounds. The description for wights says they "drain away life energy levels when they score a hit in melee, one level per hit. Thus, a hit removes both the hit die and the corresponding energy to fight, i.e. a 9th level fighter would drop to 8th level." The wight description is interesting for two reasons. First, it could be read in conjunction with the Cure Light Wounds description ("will remove hits") to mean that Cure will "remove hits" inflicted by the wights, and therefore restore the drained level* caused by those hits. Second, the wight description links "hits" with "energy to fight".

Hit dice dictate the number of creatures affected by Sleep. Sleep does not wound the targets, so that too indicates hit points/dice measure something in addition to the capacity to survive wounds.

Perhaps the most direct reading is that hit points correspond directly to the capacity to sustain wounds, but it's possible to understand some passages to mean that hit points/dice sometimes represent other concepts. I tend to favor the latter reading. Practically speaking, an experienced combatant may to some extent be able to mitigate wounds (maneuver to take a bruise to the shoulder instead of a slash to the ribs), but they'll certainly be better conditioned both mentally and physically to the rigors of battle in terms of stress, fatigue, and concentration.

* Although page 35 of Underworld & Wilderness Adventures says "energy levels can only be regained by fresh experience, but common wounds can be healed with the passage of time".

Friday, October 22, 2010

This game is fun

" was more important to start playing and to play regularly than it was to get everything completely right. [...] the players all said that they had a wonderful time and they would very much like to continue. It could be that the inadequacies of the session were entirely in my head or, at least, invisible to the players."
Yes, indeed. I'm sure Evan ran a good session. One of the things I've learned over the past few months, though, is that this game is fun. Even if the DM isn't at his best during a particular session, or isn't as prepared as he'd like to be (and who ever is!), the game is still fun. Friends, dice, and dungeon crawling is a hard to ruin recipe. That realization has helped me relax and enjoy myself as a referee.

Why all weapons do d6 damage

Spot on.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Alignment = the Flow of Capital

I stumbled across an older post from Sham, which immediately caught my imagination. He says:
Adventuring characters gain experience through the wealth they extract from the underworld. As detailed in The First Fantasy Campaign by Dave Arneson, adventurers in the initial version of what was to become D&D were required to spend their plundered gold pursuing certain motivations in order to gain experience from it. Gold allows experienced adventurers to bring order to the wilderness on the surface through the construction of strongholds. The forces of Law desire the plundering of gold from the clutches of Chaos in the underworld that they might spread the will of man across the land.
My imagination went to a slightly different place with this idea than Sham took it. He went in a metagame direction (XP), while my thinking was more economic. Both approaches are slightly different aspects of the same thing, and lead to similar outcomes.

 The more gold in man's economy, the more the domain of Law expands, thereby encroaching on the domain of monsters. It's habitat destruction.

 Most monsters of low and medium intelligence have no use for gold. Their "societies" are anarchies where the strong dominate the weak. They have little use for abstract currency, since their economy is based on barter—barter of goods, or the barter of favors and promises.

However, some intelligent monsters recognize the dangers posed to their habitat by man's expansionism. These monsters, particularly dragons, hope to stymy civilization by removing currency from the human economy (i.e.—hoarding treasure). They do so directly and by employing lesser agents, such as orcs, goblins, and kobolds. Goblins have no interest in gold, but they desperately want the favor and protection of a dragon or his mid-level ogre operative.

Low level adventurers are just as much cogs in the System of Capital as goblins. This is even more evident if you use the carousing rules in your game—characters acts as hoses, syphoning gold from the dungeon to the economy. Even neutral, primarily self-interested adventurers are therefore agents of Law.

Law versus Chaos is all about the flow of capital. Dragons are economic terrorists, who want the flow running away from Men.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In defense of coin-weight encumbrance

The OD&D method of using coins as a unit of measurement for encumbrance is not intuitive for players. A player has reasonable references for what 10 pounds feels like—like a 12-pack of soda cans—but the weight of 50 or 100 coins is less familiar. But D&D is all about choices. A henchman died while finding the treasure? You really should return his body for proper burial. But the body weighs 1750 coins—1750 coins you could otherwise carry out of the dungeon. That plate mail doesn't just slow your movement, it's 750 coins you won't bring out of the dungeon. (It looks like an OD&D coin conveniently weights about a tenth of a pound—four times the weight of a U.S. half-dollar coin.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Clamorous Opal

Whoever first picks up the Clamorous Opal becomes its owner. Whenever the owner moves, a sound like the rattling of a string of tin cans over cobblestones emanates from his immediate vicinity. The noise makes it impossible for the opal's owner to surprise an enemy, except in extremely loud environments. The opal falls silent only after its owner dies. The owner can not discard or give away the opal. Short of death, the only way to get rid of it is a Remove Curse spell.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The magic sword Dachmikek

+1, +2 versus goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears
Lawful; INT 7; empathic; Egoism 1 (leads user past better weapons)
One primary power: detect gems

When wielded, this sword will cause a tingling sensation in the user's arm when it comes within 60' of a previously undetected gem. Within 10' of the gem, it will cause euphoria to the extent that the user must save versus Stone or become overexcited (-3 AC and -3 to hit). If the saving throw is failed, the character may attempt to save again on each subsequent turn to end the effect. On the blade of the sword is its name, and an unlabeled map, which appears to show a mountain stronghold. These markings are not inscribed or etched into the blade; they are drawn by veins of carbon which run through the entire thickness of the steel.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Food always tastes better when you're hungry

The Lamentations of the Flame Princess equipment prices differ considerably from the B/X prices. In B/X, chainmail costs 40gp, while in LotFP it costs 150gp. Your first level fighter will be in leather, just like the thief. I've spoken with several people who consider the LotFP prices a disagreeable concession to economic realism. I'm not generally a big proponent of RPG realism, but the LotFP prices are good because they give the players something: anticipation. Playing a level 1 fighter, I'm really looking forward the first big treasure haul that will give my character the security of metal armor.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life span differences

Rob Conley's bit about elves in his recent examples of cultural motivations is interesting:
Then there are Elves. Immortal they provide a living memory back into the depths of time for the cultures they come into contact with. It as in the 21st century we have people who knew and spoke with Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and other historical figures of the past.
This would be an issue for any two races of significantly differing lifespans. How they each deal with the issue would indeed tell much about their cultures. An elven culture might, for example, have some sort of "prime directive" to prevent them from derailing the cultures of shorter-lived races. Imagine a group of humans who, in order to extract valuable information, hold captive a memeber of a long-lived race—perhaps for generations.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Search the OSR

Google offers a feature called custom search, which allows you to specify a list of sites to search. I created an OSR Search for dozens of old-school blogs and forums.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Island hopping campaign

Ze bulette's post about the excellence of X1 reminded me of a comment Telecanter made to his own post about Snake Island. The idea (if I understood Telecanter correctly) is for a one-page dungeon contest/anthology where a bunch of people each contribute an island. DM's could then pick-and-choose islands, and run a campaign where PC's hop from island to island. The isolation of islands makes it easy for DM's to drop-in diverse adventures in a modular fashion, while maintaining a veneer of naturalism. Someone should organize this shindig. Telecanter? Anyone?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dice roller bot

I wrote a dice roller bot for GoogleTalk (or, really, any Jabber/XMPP chat server). Here's the README.txt, and here's the dicebot.rb script. It seems to work pretty well, but let me know if you find any bugs.

Screenshot of dice roller bot during chat

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fairy tale inspirations

While there's considerable second-hand fairy tale influence from writers like Tolkien and Lord Dunsany, the direct influence of fairy tales on Dungeons & Dragons seems surprisingly small. This is not necessarily the case—your individual campaign setting or a particular adventure might have a strong fairy tale vibe. For example, many elements of Zak's game have to my mind a fairy tale sensibility (e.g.—snakes are books). I started thinking about fairy tales after reading a book review, which articulated some characteristic of the genre particularly well. This is a much abridged sample of the review, wherein I bolded several instructive points:
Year after year, we print and re-print fairy tales. What is it that makes them valuable? [...] surely the tales do not teach morality. Remember the egregious brutality of that spoiled princess in The Frog King who, after hurling the little animal who helped her against the wall, gets rewarded. [...] Nor do the tales psychologize or philosophize. What they do, instead, is what all great children’s literature does: they literalize metaphor. They lower their glittering buckets deep into the psyche’s well. [...] Not quite like ancient myths, which use nymphs and satyrs to explain recurring natural phenomena; nor like fables, whose timeless moral lessons are parlayed through the escapades of animal characters; nor like legends, which exude the pungent aromas of one particular locale and its history, fairy tales are [...] stories made to summon wonder, horror, enchantment—and not necessarily anything more. Uncanny in the purest sense of the word, which is to say, both bizarre and familiar at once[....] the Grimms’ tales match, with an almost miraculous precision, children’s own ways of thinking. They transform contiguity into causality, and they maximize contrast.
Mixing these characteristics into a D&D would give it a fairy tale flavor. Here's a quick example. Take the idium/cliche "ton of bricks". Imagine the ruler of a small kingdom, who was forced (for whatever reason—war, famine, corruption) to make very difficult decisions. One of his policies hurt a witch. The witch put a curse on him: every time one of his decisions harmed one of his subjects, a lead ingot would appear in his vicinity. Over the course of a few months, his castle filled with lead ingots. Eventually, the structure collapsed, killing him and his family. That's your dungeon— a ruined castle full of lead ingots. This could present some interesting challenges to adventurers, and a backstory for the players to uncover as they explore.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Book of Imaginary Beings

Despite the fact that Jorge Luis Borges is one of my favorite writers, I had only briefly flipped through The Book of Imaginary Being at the library. I recently noticed that Borges' bestiary appears on the inspirational source material list at the back of the Moldvay basic book, so I grabbed a copy to see what material could be appropriated for gaming. The book contains over a hundred entries for monsters, each entry 1-2 pages. For a quick bit of general inspiration, pull it off the shelf and read two or three entries at random. There are also many specific details that could profitably be stolen for your games. I found these, for example, in three random entries:
  • the shaft of a griffon's feather makes a marvelous bow
  • angry villagers who slay a monster might have it taxidermied and prominently displayed to visitors
  • the dots on tortoise shells are treatises about the cosmos
If you've never read any of Borges' fiction, I strongly recommend it. His stuff isn't strictly fantasy, but it certainly falls under the heading "literature of the fantastic". Start either with the Everyman's Library edition of Ficciones or one of the out-of-print Giovanni translations. Unfortunately, the widely available Andrew Hurley translations are discouragingly stilted.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

OSR bibliography

An annotated bibliography of OSR material is a great idea.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Target-20 for 0e

I really like the simplicity and efficiency of Delta's target 20 combat algorithm, but using character level as one of the variables doesn't match the progression shown in the 0e attack matrices. So, I made the table below. I think it works, but let me know if I've missed anything.
0e Target-20 Attacker Bonus Table
A hit occurs when the attacker bonus + target AC + any other modifiers >= 20.
Attacker bonus +1 +2 +3 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 +10 +11 +13
Fighting- man level 1-3 4-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16-18
Cleric level 1-4 5-8 9-12 13-16 17-20 21-24
Magic- user level 1-5 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-25 26-30
Monster hit dice 0-1 1 +1 2-3 3-4 4-6 6-8 9-10 11+
For example, a level 8 fighter would have an attack bonus of +6. If he attacked a monster with an AC 2, he would have to roll a 12 or higher to hit (attacker bonus 6 + target AC 2 + d20 >= 20).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

OD&D attack matrix

Looking at the attack matrix for men on page 19 of Men & Magic, I'm wondering what happens at high levels. The column header "16 & +" seems to indicate that fighting-men never get better than that (e.g.—hitting AC 2 on a roll of 5 or better). Given that fighting men progress in attack ability every three levels and top-out at level 16, what about the other classes? Clerics advance in attack ability every four levels, and magic-users every five levels. Will a magic-user eventually (at level 26) be able to hit AC 2 with a roll of 5 (i.e.—catching-up with the combat abilities of fighting-men, but ten levels later)? Or, does improvement of their combat ability end at level 16, hitting AC 2 with a roll of 10? It looks to me like combat ability for all classes stops improving at level 16; to hit AC 2 fighting men top-out at a roll of 5, while both clerics and magic-users top-out at a roll of 10 to hit AC 2. Do you agree? Or could Men & Magic mean that magic users and clerics are eventually able to hit AC 2 with a roll of 5? EDIT: I initially missed the bit that says "...and at 13th level the Patriarch would get 8 + 2 and fight as a Superhero - the next change in Fighting Capacity coming at 17th level." So... it seems that attacks will continue to get better beyond level 16, yes?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dungeon geomorphs

As linked by Scott at Huge Ruined Pile, these hand drawn dungeon geomorphs by dysonlogos are inspiring. Dysonlogos says:
[...] my challenge to myself for the next three months is to draw up a 100′ x 100′ dungeon geomorph every day, six per week, and then compile that week’s geomorphs into a single page PDF release every Friday as my Friday Map.
I may have to try my hand at making some geomorphs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fantasy doodle Friday

Village in the Dale, as rendered on a 3" x 5" index card:

This image is © Paul Gorman, and licensed under both the OGL 1a and the Creative Commons Attribution License—take your pick. Also available in a print resolution version.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My simulacrum game

James at Grognardia posted today about wanting a clone that is closer to the original game. Here's the comment I made to his post, which I figured I might as well repost here by way of an announcement:
I think it's a useful exercise (one that I'm currently about 50% done with myself) for anyone trying to come to grips with OD&D to write their own clone of the three LBB's. Organize it in a way that makes sense to you and your players, but hew as closely as possible to the originals. I've learned a lot by doing this. One of the main problems/decisions is what to do about the ambiguities and omissions in the originals. You must decide whether to preserve those ambiguities or to clarify them. I've settled on mostly preserving the ambiguities, and providing filler for the omissions in an appendix. If my lawyer gives it the thumbs-up, I'll release my clone as a free PDF (along with the LaTeX source files). I encourage everybody interested in this kind of thing to give clone writing a try for themselves. Don't worry about having too many clones around; filtering for the best content is one of the things the internet does well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Old school art

This is a couple of years old, but Matt Finch's comments in a Grognardia thread about old school art impressed me enough that I want to mention it here for my own future reference. He says, essentially, that old school D&D art frequently depicts an environment and situation in which archetypal characters (often more roguish than clearly heroic characters) reach a moment of decision—a moment ripe with expectancy and sometimes wry humor. This is not portraiture; you don't see heroes posing for the camera. The art of David Trampier, such as the original 1978 cover of the first edition Players Handbook, exemplifies these criteria.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fantasy doodle Friday

Afternoon doodle on the back of a business card:

This image is © Paul Gorman, and licensed under both the OGL 1a and the Creative Commons Attribution License—take your pick. Also available in a print resolution version.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fix scans in Judges Guild PDF's

This is mainly for my own reference, but some of you might also find it useful. The RPGnow PDF's of original Judges Guild products—like the Ready Ref Sheets—were made from low-contrast grayscale scans. They read OK on screen, but don't print cleanly. If you have a Linux box (or any OS with a recent ImageMagick version) this command will produce a cleaner printing PDF:

convert -density 300 -brightness-contrast 0%x90% JGld-ReadyRefSheets.pdf readyrefsheets-contrasty.pdf

That grinds my machine to a halt for several minutes, so you might want to lower the priority level of the process with nice. If you have an older version of ImageMagick, you may be able to achieve similar results using the -contrast-stretch option instead of -brightness-contrast. If you have a better way to achieve similar results, I'd like to know. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Initiative by weapon priority

I've been looking for an initiative system for my nascent OD&D game, and came across the weapon priority charts on page 17 of the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets. I'm not positive that those charts were originally intended as an initiative system per se, but they could do the job. This violates my general principle that any house rule should be expressible as a simple sentence, but something about it appeals to me—perhaps that it solves the initiative problem while giving players significant tactical options with low rules overhead. The original charts assign a weapon priority based on the type of attack, the armor class or monster speed, and the dexterity of each combatant. Three variable is a little too crunchy for my tastes. I don't think much would be lost by dropping the armor/speed and dexterity variables, and assuming that all actions of a particular type take effect simultaneously. This list is a slightly modified form of the Judges Guild chart:
  1. Gaze attacks
  2. Breath weapons
  3. Spells level 1-3
  4. Missile weapons
  5. Long weapons (polearms, spears)
  6. Spells level 4-6
  7. Medium weapons (swords, maces)
  8. Short weapons (daggers, saps)
  9. Spells level 7-9
  10. Read scrolls, other actions
Of course, you could still roll initiative to see who goes first at each of the stages—if that's your thing—or let those wearing no/light armor or with high dexterity act one step sooner.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ritual spell casting

Telecanter posted a PDF with some of his favorite house rules, which reminded me of one I've been considering. I'm not completely comfortable with the way fourth edition separates magic into combat spells and non-combat rituals, but I do think there's a place for ritual casting in OD&D. I like the idea of the PC's bursting into a room to interupt an evil priest muttering over a smoldering brazier and a bound sacrifice. I'm not sure exactly how it should work as a rule, but I'm starting with this on a trial basis:
A magic-user (or cleric) can cast any spell they know without it occupying a daily spell slot so long as they have the spell in written form and can take the time to cast it (two 10 minute turns per spell level). This is not something they can do in combat or any other distracting situation. The referee should make a wandering monster check each turn during ritual spell casting.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

What armor restrictions?

I've been studying the LBB's lately, which has caused considerable lengthening of my D&D things-I-thought-I-knew list. One of those things is the prohibition against magic-users wearing armor. This seems to be the only passage in Men & Magic on the matter:
The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users [sic] beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only.
To my eyes, this is only talking about magical armor. It's possible that there's a later passage in the LBB's that explicitly bans mundane armor for magic-users, but based on this I think they should be able to suit-up in full plate. Even the daggers-only clause is joined by a semi-colon to the clause about enchanted items, so it may imply "with enchanted daggers only." That could mean that they can use all mundane weapons but no magical weapons except for daggers. If the referee was feeling perverse, he could even interpret it to mean that magic-users can't wield any mundane or magic weapons except for enchanted daggers. I assume that the accepted doctrine against armored magic-users is rooted in how things worked at Gary's gaming table, but I haven't found much discussion on the usual forums about what a literal reading of the text would mean. Your thoughts?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fantasy doodle Friday

Post-it note inspiration struck me after lunch.

Drawing of a dark night on Skull Mountain

This image is © Paul Gorman, and licensed under both the OGL 1a and the Creative Commons Attribution License—take your pick. Also available in a print resolution version.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Really large dungeons: scan and print

Rob posted about drawing large dungeons on large sheets of graph paper. I thought I'd mention that most Kinko's (now FedEx Office) can scan, print, and copy arbitrarily long sheets of paper up to 36 inches wide. Scanning is $1 per square foot, and printing is 75¢ per square foot. That's for black & white; color is probably a lot more expensive. You could also use oversize printing to do things like draw several super-detailed maps on 4x4 grid paper, scan, digitally combine, reduce, and print them on 36" wide paper for a huge map with minute detail. Or draw your map on 24" x 36" paper, scan it, and print it at 8.5" x 11" or whatever. Searching Amazon for grid vellum 36" or grid vellum 24" gives several options for large original drawings.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Encounter Critical

I discovered Encounter Critical, and have been rendered amused. It is clearly a work of genius.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rolling ability scores

James Maliszewski made a post about ability score generation. These days, I favor the 3d6-in-order method. You could give players the option of using an inverted bell curve to satisfy their inner min-maxer without out resorting to any sort of point-buys or dice swapping:
Dice Roll (3d6)Ability ScoreProbability

Friday, August 27, 2010

Two word NPC's

Telecanter solicited two word NPC's, so here's my list:
  1. charitable poacher
  2. professional bather
  3. narcoleptic tollkeeper
  4. cannibal crofter
  5. lovelorn bugbear
  6. muscular lacemaker
  7. gossipy limner
  8. daydreaming veterinarian
  9. myopic watchman
  10. cutpurse sawbones
  11. prophetic maidservant
  12. thrill-seeking copyist
  13. crippled stevedore
  14. obsessive-compulsive oil merchant
  15. palsied gemcutter
  16. pyromaniacal lampwright
  17. careless butcher
  18. deaf sperviter
  19. sweaty phrenologist
  20. prosaic dreamreader
  21. be-gilled oarsman
  22. impatient tallyman
  23. meticulous surveyor
  24. prudish midwife
  25. cursed barber
  26. wereboar swineherd
  27. troubled wellsinker
  28. decorous fence
  29. excitable philosophe
  30. delusional publican

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trading on design

In a reply to my post from yesterday, Scott of Huge Ruined Pile (who himself recently penned something of an apologia for nostalgia) predicted a move to "more modern-looking" OSR products. There's good design and bad design. Good design is aesthetically appealing and functional. In the case of game covers, the function is to communicate the nature of the content. What is the game about? Is it the sort of thing I would like? Here are a couple of current Swords & Wizardry products: The design of both these products effectively communicates what they're about. They're fantasy adventure games, with an old-school flavor. I also find them aesthetically pleasing per se, apart from the nostalgia factor. The boxed set has a clean, balanced design which does its job even when considered in isolation from the 1974 box. Granted, most of the people buying these products are familiar with the earlier works they reference. But that's true of any package design. You sell an unfamiliar product by creating associations in the minds of consumers. Leaving aside whether they are good or bad design (relative to the S&W covers or on their own), what associations do these "modern" Frog God Games covers evoke? These covers capitalize on a design aesthetic that was popularized around 2001 with the boom of 3e products. No doubt the designs create the desired associations in their audience. My concern is that—however much we would like to see Swords & Wizardry realize the volume of sales 3e publishers saw—the design aesthetic of the Frog God Games products would less effectively communicate the appeal of S&W than the existing Mullen cover. If you think the Swords & Wizardry packaging is derivative (I don't—it's nostalgic but not derivative), is it better to jump from one derivative design to another derivative design of slightly more recent vintage? I don't ask that rhetorically. (In case you haven't seen it, the art for the new Swords & Wizardry cover is shown in my last post.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hmph: Frog God Swords & Wizardry

It's a good thing if an old-school game can get broader distribution with a new publisher. On the other hand, the Frog God press release seems a little tone deaf:
"We won't sell you hand drawn maps and clip art laid out by amateurs and posted up on as a cheap book that you look at and discard."
And speaking of tone, I've always felt that Peter Mullen's art strikes just the right note for any old-school gaming material. Frog God Game's new S&W cover—not so much: I mean, it's nice and all, but to me the new cover art says "d20-era Call of Cthulhu" not OD&D. UPDATE: Mythmere (Matthew J. Finch) comments on the "by amateurs and posted up on" statement.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Superstitious dungeoneers

There's a good post on Dungeons and Digressions about superstitious dungeoneers, which I'm linking to here so that I'll remember to use it later. These are my favorites: 8. A torch that touches the ground means someone will be injured or killed soon. 9. A bell heard underground is, well, not good. 10. At least one coin should always be left behind when treasure is recovered. 11. If you see a bat you should change your weapon. 22. If someone’s head gets chopped off near you, you should kick it far away lest you suffer the same fate. 25. Knock three times on a shield after discussing someone’s death. (I'm also a fan of the index card posts.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

B/X Companion initial impressions

The mailman delivered my B/X Companion a few minutes ago. The cover art by Brian DeClercq is beautiful. It has a nice old-school feel without being a slavish imitation of Erol Otus's B/X covers. The book is 64 pages in length, not counting the table of contents and index printed on the inside cover, and formatted in two columns. It's 8.5" x 11" saddle stitched, so it's slightly taller than the B/X books. The book covers levels 15-36. Of course, demi-human advancement is capped below those level, but the book includes material useful for all classes, such as information on domain rulership. As one might expect, the greatest number of pages are occupied by new spells, monsters, and magic items. There's also rules for siege combat, a new Bard class, and adventuring on other planes. I'll post more about the B/X Companion again after I've spent a couple of weeks with it, but the my initial impression is that it's a good buy. I'll leave you with this example to wet your appetite:
"Craft Device: this is the thief's ability to construct elaborate traps of mechanical nature. Cost and time to construct will need to be decided by the DM (similar to construction of magical devices). Thieves use these devices to protect their hideouts, though they may build them for others at a price. Failing the craft roll by more than 10% means the device was not constructed correctly, and all the time, money, and components are wasted. Failing the roll by 10% or less indicated the thief successfully created the device, but is himself the first victim of the device as he sets off the trap!"

Abilities for general task resolution (2/2)

Yesterday, I wrote about a mechanic I found in the Ready Ref Sheets for resolving extraordinary character actions. If, instead of using the uniform distribution of a d100, you use bell curve probabilities by adding d6's, you can tune the odds without resorting to +/- bonuses. Higher ability scores are relatively more helpful with this method, and you can use the mechanic to resolve both ordinary and extraordinary actions.
A fighter with a 15 strength want to roll back a large boulder. The referee decides that it's a quite difficult task, so the player must roll under his strength using 6d6. However, if the character spends a turn digging dirt from under one side of the boulder, the referee can let him roll 5d6 for his next attempt.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Abilities for general task resolution (1/2)

While thumbing through my Ready Ref Sheets, I noticed this mechanic for resolving extraordinary actions attempted by characters:
"At judge's option, a player may attempt a task, and be successful if he rolls the ability being tested as a percentage or less. For example, a Fighter with a Strength of 15 attempts to roll back a large boulder, rolling a 14% he would be successful."
This is a fun mechanic, because by changing the unit of dice from 3d6 to d100 it puts the difficulty of the task in perspective for the player. But there's an easy way for the referee to tune it according to the difficulty of the task without resorting to +/- percentage modifiers. I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

B/X Companion

JB of B/X Blackrazor finally has his B/X Companion for sale. My copy is in the mail.

Carcosa author reviews LotFP

Geoffrey McKinney, author of Carcosa, posted a review of Lamentations of the Flame Princess to the OD&D Discussion forum. He likes it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Which dialect of Common do your PC's speak?

There's an interesting post over at Language Log about linguistic diversity in pre-historic Europe, which could have significant implications for anyone running a game in a world without large, culturally homogenizing nation states.
"The basic fact of pre-state language distribution is that no single language can occupy, for more than a few centuries, an area too large for all its native speakers to communicate with each other regularly. The reasons for that are simple and obvious. All languages change, slowly but steadily, over time. Each change originates in a small part of the speaking population and spreads outward through the speech community. [...] Many changes either spread through the entire community over two or three generations or are suppressed by social “stigmatization”; some are accepted by some parts of the community but not by others, creating “dialect” differences within the broader speech community. But if parts of the speech community cease to communicate altogether, or communicate so rarely that they have no incentive to imitate each others’ speech, changes cannot spread from one to another; different changes will accumulate on either side of the linguistic barrier, and within a thousand years, at most, a single language will have become two or more. [...] Thus in pre-state communities every language spread automatically results in language fragmentation. Of course not all the fragments survive; pre-state language communities sometimes gradually abandon their native language and adopt the language of another community with which they are in intimate contact...."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wandering monsters: frequency and uniqueness

In the comments to a Grognardia post about wandering monsters, Wayne Rossi described his wandering monster method, which I thought interesting enough to repeat here. Create a custom wandering monster table for each area. Check for wandering monsters every turn (presumably with a 1 in 6 chance of encountering a wandering monster). If a monster is encountered and killed, cross it off your wandering monster table. If that number on the table is rerolled later, treat it as no wandering monster encountered. However, if a party flees from or otherwise fails to kill a monster, that particular monster is still wandering around the dungeon. It will remember the PC's if encountered later. The only downside I see with this method (and I'm not sure it's a problem) is that the probability of encountering a wandering monster would drop over time, as the table is depleted.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

I had pre-ordered Lamentations of the Flame Princess from Troll and Toad, and it arrived yesterday. It's a nice, hefty little box set. I'll post a review in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Stack Overflow for RPG's

Stack Overflow is gauging interest in a dedicated RPG Q&A site/section. Whether they go ahead depends upon how many people commit to participating.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Traumatic Adolescent Background Generator

There's great stuff in Valley of Blue Snails' Traumatic Adolescent Background Generator, but for some reason I find this entry particularly amusing:
1 – Head stuck in a hole in ground for 1d8 days. Something licks your legs periodically during your entrapment.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hirelings: The Master Rigger

Wage: 200 gp per month (more away from the sea) Although it may seem like the rigger of a sailing ship would find little work in a dungeon, their mastery of selecting cables, ropes, pulleys, sheaves, and blocks appropriate for moving heavy loads and controlling sails has numerous applications underground. They can splice long lines, tie harnesses, and construct rope bridges over chasms. The high quality lines preferred by a master rigger will be more expensive than the 50' ropes normally carried by adventurers, and their volume of gear may require 2-3 additional porters. Men with the courage to climb through the rigging of a ship have the will (or recklessness) to follow adventurers into dungeons for the right pay, but they'll always have one ear to the call of the sea. A master rigger is unlikely for join a land-based party for long. Master riggers will only be found in towns with significant sea trade.
Job Cost Time
Splice two lengths of rope (no chance of slipping) Cost of ropes 1 turn
Create a safe humanoid climbing harness from rope 1 gp rope 1 turn
Create a carrying harness that allows several men to move heavy objects by combining their strength 2 gp per carrier 1.5 turns per carrier
Create a pulley system to safely shift a 1 ton load 10' 50 gp 2d4 hours
Build a 50' rope bridge 42 gp 2d4 days
Build a platform elevator atop a deep pit 45 gp + 3 gp per 50' deep 2d12+6 hours

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Excursions from the Megadungeon

Scott at Huge Ruined Pile posted about enjoying both megadungeons and small, detailed modules. I agree. I've started thinking about building my own megadungeon, and plan to include outside excursions for the sake of variety. These will mostly be optional side-quests, although a couple would be required to advance further into the megadungeon. The characters might need to recover an artifact from a remote site before they can open a door to the megadungeon's next level for example. The players get a change of pace, and the DM gets to indulge in building an intricate little adventure site.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sandbox Without A World Map

Over at B/X Blackrazor, in a post about silly hats*, JB wrote:
Commercializing Greyhawk may have been the biggest creative mis-steps Gygax made, assuming the world of Oerth grew OUT OF his original D&D campaign (similar to what Maliszewski has done with the world surrounding Dwimmermount). By codifying it and selling it he said: look this is what you do! Create a whole world with factions and nations and religions THEN try to figure out how "your heroes" fit in! [...] So much easier to create the world a piece at a time, as needed, as the weirdness allows.
I've been thinking about that problem lately: how to have a sandbox game while also letting the world grow organically. The way I imagine a sandbox game, the players point to a hex on a large-scale map, and that's where they go. The obvious way to combine that sandbox style with an only-design-what-you're-going-to-use-next-session game is to have a map with lots of empty space and vague descriptions. But that still entails having a predefined geography. I'd rather my players start the game uncertain of the scope of the world and their place in it. I came up with this type of compass chart as a solution: Players start the campaign knowing the relative distance and direction of some interesting destinations, but they'll have to explore and make their own maps. Such a framework allows the world to grow organically. Another option would be to give the players a world map which you stipulate is inaccurate in many particulars, because of the difficulties in a world where most people rarely travel between the "points of light" in a vast wilderness. * I strongly agree that unusual headgear is a necessary element of any game which hopes to capture that old-school Erol Otus vibe.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Retro-Clone Comparison Chart

I created a retro-clone comparison chart, since I was curious and it seems to be a common question. Please comment on this post if you have any corrections or suggestions.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Melan diagrams

Justin Alexander recently made several posts about the dungeon design methods seen in Paul Jaquays' adventures. Those articles are worth a read in themselves, and they use an interesting analytical technique which visualizes a dungeon as logical flowchart rather than a floorplan. I'm going to start making such flowcharts as a quality control measure after the first rough draft of my dungeons. (This reminds me of Stefanie Posavec's sentence drawings, which are worth a look if you're a fan if visualizations.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Secret Arneson Gift Exchange

I can't believe I missed out on the Secret Arneson Gift Exchange. Oh, well. Next year.

Magic Pools

Dungeons are are often damp places. It's common for pools of water to collect in low-lying areas of dungeon levels. Rarely, pools have unusual magical characteristics. The following table is adapted from the first issue of The Strategic Review:
Magical Pool Properties (PC's must wade into or drink from pool)
1 One time only, turns gold to platinum
2 One time only, turns gold to lead
One time only, permanently modify ability
1 Add 1d3 points to strength
2 Subtract 1d3 points from strength
3 Add 1d3 points to intelligence
4 Subtract 1d3 points from intelligence
5 Add 1d3 points to wisdom
6 Subtract 1d3 points from wisdom
7 Add 1d3 points to dexterity
8 Subtract 1d3 points from dexterity
9 Add 1d3 points to constitution
10 Subtract 1d3 points from constitution
11 Add 1d3 points to charisma
12 Subtract 1d3 points from charisma
4 The pool speaks, and offers to grant one wish to each of the characters. The pool has an alignment: 1-2 lawful, 2-3 neutral, 4-6 chaotic. Characters who make a wish but are not of the same alignment as the pool suffer 2d6 damage. The wishes of characters of the same alignment as the pool are granted, but do not take effect for 2d12 hours.
5 Characters entering the pool are transported to the surface.
6 Characters entering the pool are transported one level down in the dungeon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Alignment as theme

I've been thinking about alignment as a thematic dichotomy. Each campaign could have its own thematic alignment scheme. OD&D is Lawful/Chaotic. Other possibilities might be Civilized/Barbarous (Conan), Mundane/Fey (Strange & Norrell), or New Religion/Old Religion (Arthur). Carcosa is interesting in that it repurposes OD&D's general Lawful/Chaotic alignment scheme by making it a specific, thematic element of the game: lawful characters oppose releasing Lovecraftian Old Ones from imprisonment, while chaotic characters seek to aid and serve the Great Old Ones.