I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Quick Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals

Here are some deals, FWIW.



Frog God probably has the biggest sale ATM. Some titles - both 5e and OSR - are 60% off. Not sure what to pick, since I'm not into megadungeons and detailed settings. Maybe Monstrosities and Tehuatl.

Some of my own books are included in the sale (I don't know how they chose it).

Old School Feats and Alternate Magic are compatible with B/X and OSE, BFRPG, etc. They add lots of options to your games without getting to AD&D/RC levels of complexity, and you can check the free previews in the site to read almost half the books.

If you're into 5e, my two 5e books are also on sale (weapons and armor).

I also have a couple of "get everything" bundle for 50% off, but these are not Black Friday deals:

And here are some deals I've recommended in the past and are currently on sale:


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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The B/X paradox (also: the AD&D paradox, minimum viable D&D)

The B/X paradox is that B/X is both one of my favorite RPGs - maybe the greatest - but I can also think of a dozen games that I like better. These games, however, are mostly directly derived from B/X. 

B/X is, IMO:

- Very easy to improve,  customize, or house rule.
- In many ways superior to AD&D, 3e, 4e, 5e, etc., and even the RC.
- In many ways inferior to its streamlined/modernized versions: BFRPG, LotFP, ACKS, OSE and (dare I say it?) Dark Fantasy Basic.

There is not much more to it. B/X is a diamond in the rough. I am often playing some version of it... but ALWAYS with more stuff added, and NEVER exactly as written.

Ugly AI art.

Here is another paradox: while I like B/X neoclones more than most games, I hate it when they stick too close to B/X. If you're keeping it as originally written, what is the point? But I also dislike games that change B/X so much that they become incompatible (e.g., changing the number of ability scores or making all abilities "roll under").

So, at the bare minimum, I expect a B/X clone to "fix" thieves' skills and weapons - but I would also like to see some solutions for arbitrary saving throws and race-as-class, in addition to the over-reliance on tables (XP, STs, skills, etc.). On the other hand, I expect it to be compatible with existing modules, monsters, etc. with minimal tweaking.

Finally, here is my AD&D paradox: I think AD&D is messy and unnecessarily complex (when compared to B/X) and I would never play it as written (not even Gygax did), but I really enjoy all B/X clones that try to add AD&D stuff to the game: races separated from class, more classes, monsters (including demons), stronger fighters (better THAC0), multiple attacks, thieves with d6 HD, and so on.

I think the easiest way to explain is that: B/X is close to a "minimum viable D&D", where every mechanic has a clear purpose. It still has some redundant parts (and some missing parts, IMO; I think every D&D should have a ranger or other way to meaningfully raise your chances at exploring the wilderness), but it does a great job overall. AD&D - and every other edition of D&D - also contain that MVD&D, but it is much harder to find under all the spare parts (and not all spare parts are working properly, e.g., weapons versus armor).

Since I like SOME spare parts but not others, B/X remains my favorite game to customize. At least until I manage to publish my minimalist B/X...

EDIT: BTW, both Old School Feats and Alternate Magic are on sale. Both compatible with B/X and both (especially OSF) good examples on how to add some fiddly bits to your games without getting to AD&D/RC levels of complexity.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Milestones with different XP tracks (B/X)

Just a simple thought exercise...

I prefer using milestones instead of tracking XP in my games. With different XP tracks, this can become hard. The table below notes 55 milestones that guarantee that someone is levelling up whenever a new milestone is reached (provided there is a PC of the appropriate class; e.g., the 55th milestone makes a difference only for MUs).

It is up to the GM when to give the first milestone (thus getting the thief to level 2). After that, one milestone per dungeon or significant goal is appropriate. Or in whatever pace the GM wishes. The point is that no individual XP tracking is required.

Alternatively, if the GM wants to give away XP per session/dungeon/challenge, the table below suggests an appropriate amount. E.g., if the PCs have about 500,000 XP, give them 20,000 XP for the next milestone. 

If you prefer a formula to a table use, the 10% method. Start with 100 XP and raise it to 200 XP after the PCs reached 2000, then 300 at 3000 XP, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000, 2000, 3000, etc. The idea is to give away about 10% of the current (average) XP but disregard all digits except the first one: for example, if the PCs have an average of 4450 XP they get 400 XP per milestone (and not 445). This progression is granular enough to keep PCs leveling at different paces. Notice that all PCs get the same XP, roughly based on their average XP (and milestones should take this average into account - defeating a dozen goblins is no challenge for a party with 50,000 average XP).

Come to think of it, the formula is a lot easier than using the table.

Would I use this? No, I prefer using unified XP, as noted in my house rules:
Here is what I've suggested in Old School FeatsIf you prefer unified XP tables, we recommend using the magic-user table for all classes, adding a few extra feats for Clerics, Thieves and Fighters. Thieves also get 1d6 HP per level, like clerics. Clerics need no further enhancements. This changes some assumptions but is still balanced in my opinion. If you prefer unified XP tables, we recommend using the magic-user table for all classes, adding a few extra feats for Clerics, Thieves and Fighters. Thieves also get 1d6 HP per level, like clerics. Clerics need no further enhancements. This changes some assumptions but is still balanced in my opinion.
Anyway, just a random idea. If it is not clear enough it is because I never used it; maybe someone else can develop it further.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Three Hearts and Three Lions

Three Hearts and Three Lions (1961) is classic fantasy novel written by Poul Anderson. It is also the very first book in the Appendix N - for alphabetical reasons, but still hugely influential to D&D (and to Michael Moorcock, one of my fantasy writers, also in the appendix N) . It is the main source of the original idea of alignment, and probably where D&D paladins and trolls come from.

It is also a great book, well worth the read, even if you're not exploring the origins of D&D.


The book tells the story of Holger Carlsen, a Danish engineer that gets transported from World War II (where he is fighting Nazis) to another universe. Here, there is another war going on: between the forces of Law and Chaos. Chaos is comprised of elves, fairy, sorcerers and trolls, while Law is in need of a true champion - who might be Holger himself.

From there on, Holger spends most of the book travelling around with two local companions (a dwarf and a "swan maiden"), going through many adventures that are only barely connected (often verging on the picaresque), and trying to find a reason for his predicament, a way to get back to his own world, or both. There is magic, dragons, giants, and magic swords - drawing upon German and English myths, Dunsany, Tolkien (the "riddle" scene seems to be lifted almost entirely from the Hobbit), Shakespeare, etc. This is traditional fantasy - at its best.

Most of the book has a bit of a "young adult" vibe. It feels shallow (and a bit slow) at first, but pleasing to read, with loads of humor, adventure, romance, and so on. It takes a deep dive by the end of the book, making the journey exponentially more interesting. Some people will find the ending a bit abrupt, but for me, once we can see the whole picture, there is no further need to expand on the details of Holger's story.

In short, this is a classic. It doesn't quite reach the "favorite" level for me (which includes Tolkien, Moorcock, Dunsany, Poe, Lovecraft and GRRM), but it certainly belong in the top fantasy classics, well above average even for the Appendix N. 

When I finished reading, I immediately picked "The Broken Sword", which has a different tone altogether - more bloody, epic, and tragic. If you prefer that to this adventurous vibe, it is alos worth the read (and probably a review of its own somewhere along the line).

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Sandbox quest, Part II

Part I here. Still looking for cool dungeons, ruins and encounters to scatter into my new sandbox campaign.

I'm using Dark Fantasy Basic with a few changes, but any OSR adventure will do (and even some 5e -see below!).

As I've said, it's a lot harder than I expected - I almost gave up in favor of just proposing a series of adventures.

I'm currently on session 3, and it's been going well. It was a hard work but not that I've made a map an chose a few dungeons, things are starting to run themselves.

Well, here is my second attempt at finding cool locations and good hexcrawls.

FWIW, I'll also note that I've written my own OSR adventure, The Wretched Hive. I already ran it with this group. It contains the stuff I find important in these modules: coherence, different monsters, variety, etc. If your tastes are similar to mine, check it out!


Anyway, here is batch two:

Isle of the Unknown: This looks perfect! Weird monsters, forests, coasts, creativity, no orcs, goblins or skeletons (he skipped the familiar stuff on purpose). The art is amazing. Good map and well organized. I like the Greco-Roman flavor too. Unfortunately, it is all too random and lacking coherence (it has thematic coherence - statues, zodiac signs, etc. - but not much about the society, factions. etc.). Hexes are barely related, towns are described in an incredibly terse fashion, monsters rarely get a word about behavior or languages. This is "funhouse hexcrawling" to the max. Not what I want right now. Well... maybe use some bits.

Morgansfort - This has been recommended repeatedly. A free BFRPG hexcrawl! With a well-made home-base, maps, and three dungeons! The dungeons, however, are full of the stuff I dislike: a succession of goblins, kobolds, orcs, skeletons and giant monsters. Well, it is a start, and I like the town itself, maybe I can ignore or change some of the dungeons. So... Yes.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan - This has a great balance of vanilla, classic, weird, and flavorful.  It is small and fits the theme. I'm looking at the 5e version, which also has some great art (but no PDF version, and I'm playing online). So, I might get the original, or use the one I have. Yes!

Gregorius21778: The Four Flames & the Final Archway - The author sent me a copy so I could check this one out. And it checks a lot of boxes: it has a naturalistic vibe, it somehow feels like a real place instead of a collection of goblins and orcs (there are none of those here). The enemies are bats, worms, things you might find in a cave - in addition to the foul things that haunt the place. Yes!

BTW, he also sent me 20 Sacred Sites (yes!) and suggested 20 Encounters in the Ruins of the Elder Beings (maybe), which are decent additions to scatter in a sandbox. I've included the first in my folder (some entries are more useful and interesting than the ones in Isle of the Unknown, above), and I'm torn on the second one - it is good, but I feel I need to add a cave map (and maybe some additional stuff) to make it work properly.

Coming up: Some DCC RPG modules, and more! Leave any suggestions in the comments!

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Saturday, October 29, 2022

House of the Dragon (season one review)

At this point, you have probably decided for yourself if you're going to watch it or not. I did and I thought it was great. I guess I could end here if that is all you want to know. It is on par, or maybe even better, than decent fantasy series like Witcher and Sandman, and well above Wheel of Time (I'll not say much about Rings of Power because I'm having a hard time powering through the first episodes).

However after my negative review of Fire & Blood, I thought I might add some positive notes. The series covers the second half of the blood, apparently.


Let's make this clear: this is nothing like season one of a Game of Thrones. The story is significantly less interesting. However, the worse aspects of the book are toned down: no lascivious dwarves and few gratuitous sex and violence scenes. Few scenes about taxes and building roads. No multiple narrators.

The pacing is a bit weird. The stakes are too high, too soon: a tournament ends up with multiple gruesome deaths, and later on two nobles fight on another in front of the heiress for little reason, and one ends up dead. It is like being virgin in an orgy (which also happens in the series too). It is too much in-fighting for a peaceful kingdom. The impact of violence and war later on is lessened because of that.

I've said about the book that "there are not many interesting characters to root for (or to hate; everyone is kinda dumb and evil)". Now, in the series, the characters are still weak, spoiled, scheming, violent, or have some other severe flaw. There is no Ned Stark on Jon Snow, and no one is witty and charismatic as Tyrion.

There is one notable exception: Paddy Considine is AMAZING as king Viserys. A weak king with no exceptional courage, wits, strength Benjamin... or health, but iron bound to his duty to keep the peace at all costs. You resent him for his lack of decisiveness and bad decisions, but you end up admiring his commitment. The best actor in the season by far. 

(Lots of cool versions of Elric of Melniboné [and maybe a Corum, hehe] vying for power... makes me wonder why no Elric series... oh well, I digress).

On the other hand, I admire the series for having no clear "good side". The show certainly seems to take a side (even "changing" some events from the book in favor of the "heroes"), but the "villains" are often misguided or have at the very least decent excuses for their actions ("we need a coup or they'll kill all your children", "that is what the king would want", etc.). And the "heroes" grow from their pettiness but never cease to be flawed. There is no easy answers here... which makes the show that more interesting. This time, it really feels like anyone could win.

The worldbuiling is good as always. GRRM knows this stuff. Which is why I like his other books, and will probably keep reading despite a few hiccups. The rest cast is good, the production is great, etc. The battles are decent, and there are plenty of dragons, but this season is a warm up for future strife - I feel there is a lot more violence and dragon-fighting coming. And these could be some of the coolest dragons ever seen on screen.

The show has a few flaws - confusing time jumps with unexplained events, some "tell don't show", a couple of very dark scenes, a few rushed events, etc., but overall it is really worth watching. 

Ideas for your D&D games? You bet!

It is impressive that they managed to created such a great show after the debacle of the last seasons of GoT (and even managed to create some decent connections with the original series). 

This might be the greatest fantasy series of 2022.

Unfortunately, it will take a couple of years for next season (apparently, there will be a total of four). Well, at least the ending is already written - and we might watch it on TV before getting Winds of Winter!

Friday, October 28, 2022

My favorite B/X house rules / changes / bits from other editions [2022]

So, here is a list if things I like about modern D&D (or OSR games) that I don't find in B/X. I have a "fix" for each of these, which I'll explain below.
  • Race separated from class.
  • Advantage/disadvantage.
  • Backgrounds.
  • Critical hits.
  • Streamlined saves.
  • Unified XP.
  • Streamlined skills.
  • Feats.
  • Weapon details (especially 3e/4e), without going overboard (AD&D).
  • I like "metaclasses" from 2e (warrior includes fighters, paladins, etc.), and also new classes such as the 4e warlord.
  • Alternatives to Vancian Magic (spell points or spell roll)
Some of these require completely new systems, while others are fixed with a couple of paragraphs. My own retroclone, Dark Fantasy Basic, tries to "fix" all at once. But each can be resolved separately.

[The reason I've compiled these formally is because I'm starting a new campaign].

Let's see...

Ugly AI art
  • Race separated from class.
This is relatively easy. B/X races have limited powers. Just let humans add +2 to a couple of ability scores (or a couple of feats) due to their "adaptability", while Halflings and dwarves get +2 to all saving throws, and all demi-humans get their usual languages, infravision, keen senses, etc. Now, demi-humans must pick a class, identically to humans. You might limit some combinations; it seems fitting to me that humans can be anything, dwarves can be fighters and clerics, halflings fighters and thieves, and elves fighters and MUs, but it all depends on the setting.

I have started writing a small PDF on that subject too (with about 20 races, from vanilla to very weird), but not sure where it is going.

  • Advantage/disadvantage.
This is readily adaptable from 5e (i.e., throw 2d20 and pick best/worst). If you dislike it, you can add a +4/-4 modifier due to circumstances. It is almost the same.

  • Backgrounds.
Another effortless addition. Just choose a relevant background (or "profession" in AD&D terms) and you get adequate knowledge, and also advantage (see above) in appropriate circumstances. Tons of flavor, zero complexity. This is from Dark Fantasy Basic:
1 – Peasant/Slave: Folk Hero, Escaped Slave, Village Champion.
2 – Military: Hero of the Great War, Hedge Knight, Sword for Hire.
3 – Nobility: Fallen Aristocrat, Second Son, Usurped Heir.
4 – Clergy: Herald of the Dying Gods, Former Cultist of the Great Old Ones, Axe Preacher.
5 – Outlander: Desert Nomad, Barbarian of the Frozen Wastes, Clan Outcast.
6 – Criminal: Professional Assassin, Sly Pickpocket, Charlatan.
7 – Artist: Minstrel, Wandering Actor, Circus Freak.
8 – Artisan: Blacksmith, Leatherworker, Tinker.
9 – Commerce: Merchant Traveler, Fence, Trader of Exotic Goods.
10 – Arcane: Scholar of Forgotten Lore, Diabolist, Shaman.

 

  • Critical hits.
I've been doing some play-testing with this one. Here is what I'm currently using.

  • Streamlined saves.
I do not need five vaguely defined saves. I am using a single save (roll 1d20+level, target 18), and I'm considering adding dex/wis/con modifier depending on the case.

  • Unified XP.
We would have to "balance" the four main classes to use the same XP tables for all. This is especially important for me since I'm testing milestone leveling.

Here is what I've suggested in Old School FeatsIf you prefer unified XP tables, we recommend using the magic-user table for all classes, adding a few extra feats for Clerics, Thieves and Fighters. Thieves also get 1d6 HP per level, like clerics. Clerics need no further enhancements. This changes some assumptions but is still balanced in my opinion.

Notice I also changed the cleric a bit.

If you don't use feats, just give +2 to one ability score instead.

I'm not sure this makes all classes perfectly balanced, but I'm certain it eventually makes classes MORE balanced than the original.


  • Streamlined skills.
Again, Target 18 works perfectly for thief skills. Add dex/wis if you want - I think thieves deserve the boost. Also, only a natural 1 triggers potential disaster

In addition, the various d6 tests (forage, hunt, find direction, find secret doors, etc.) can be replaced by skills (nature, perception, even persuasion). How to pick a new skill? Spend a feat to get a bonus equal to half your level.

Combat and spellcasting can be replaced by skills too (which I did in Dark Fantasy Basic - see below for spellcasting).

  • Feats.
I wrote a small book about that. Half of the book is in the preview, you can check it for free. Feats are a versatile way of adding unique features to PCs. Just be careful with how you use them. Read on for a bit more on the subject.

  • Weapon details (especially 3e/4e), without going overboard (AD&D).
This is something I have yet to tackle again. For now, I just ignore the "slow" tag. Here is a post about that.

  • "Metaclasses" from 2e (warrior includes fighters, paladins, etc.)
Yes, four classes are enough for me. Rangers, paladins, etc,. are "class packages" in Old School Feats. This way, character creation is a lot faster, and you only worry about your subclass on level 2. The warlord is included as a class package too.

  • Alternatives to Vancian Magic (spell points or spell roll)
I also wrote a small book on that too. It has lots of alternatives to choose from. Lately, I've been using spell points from that book. 

Also, been considering Target 18 spells, which is really simple and diminishes the power of high-level casters a bit, since they learn fewer spells.

Is this still B/X?

Yes! Or at least compatible. I use the same weapons, monsters, magic items, spells, and most procedures. I borrow liberally from other games too (AD&D, 2e, some stuff from the RC,  BFRPG and DCC adventures, etc.).

But why B/X?

Even with all these changes, my game is significantly simpler than 5e and even AD&D. I have enjoyed fiddly games, but I just want something easier to run. Creating a 5e or AD&D PC takes a while, and my players forgot half their features by level 10 in my 5e campaigns. So, it is also a lot easier on my players.

Anyway...

This are the house rules I'm currently using. Looks like a lot, but their explanation fits a single post. As I've noticed, most - but not all - of this is in Dark Fantasy Basic, which I have been trying to expand for a while. Or maybe I should write a "B/X house rules" PDF? Let's see where it goes.