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.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Sandbox quest

So I have started a new sandbox campaign. Something in the style of West Marches. The PCs are explorers from a distant land, that arrived recently by ship. I've written some lore and things look interesting... Jungles, pirates, many cultures, castles, factions, lost civilizations, shades of gray... Will share with you later as we go. 

I'm using Dark Fantasy Basic (currently on sale) with a few changes.

I have a nice overview of the setting, and I've been looking for cool dungeons, ruins and encounters to scatter into my sandbox. 

Well, it's a lot harder than I expected. 

First, let me tell you of some past campaigns...

I liked CoS and ToA despite the terrible organization. They have BOTH a coherent "narrative" and a sandbox setting, (mostly) railroad-free. They are, however, too verbose and extensive (and somewhat flawed). Interesting nonetheless.

I ran the entirety of Tales of the Demon Lord, each adventure is about 2-4 pages. It works well, but it lacks some coherence and the sandbox aspect. 

Before that, I've ran a couple of campaigns I created, but they were mostly GoT-style intrigue.

Now I want to build my own thing. Start with a home base (in my setting, the "Seven Castles" in the shoreline of a mostly unknown continent) and let PCs explore, interact, etc. I really like that setup for several reasons I might explain later. BTW, the PCs are now in a tropical jungle area, which makes me rule out some modules I've found (e.g., deserts, snow...) - or at least save them for later.


Since I cannot find any other big campaigns that interests me in the OSR sphere (except megadungeons), I thought I'd start looking for good OSR adventures and go from there.

Well, all I could find until now is rooms and rooms full of orcs, skeletons and giant bees in succession, with little rime or reason. 

So: I'm going through all my PDFs to find stuff I can use. Mini-dungeons, ruins, villages, locations, and even full hex-crawl modules that are portable enough (and not dominated by orcs and goblins).

Yes, I'd like recommendations, especially if free. But, for now, I'm taking a quick look at a few PDFs to see if they fit the bill. I'll also go through some recommendations I already got online, and whether I'll pursue them or not. Anything that looks good goes to my sandbox folder...

I'll say I'm not particularly interested in:

* Megadungeons.
* Orcs, goblins, etc., and skeletons living in random rooms for no reason (unless it is an undead-themed place, for example).
* Generators to create my own setting (I'm doing that already and I already have plenty of B/X random tables).

I'll also note that I've written my own OSR adventure, The Wretched Hive (currently on sale). 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 the first bunch:

* Qelong: this module is pretty cool, it has everything I wanted - coherence, creativity, a sandbox aspect, terseness, a decent size... and some jungles. Alas, we've already played it. If you haven't, it is worth checking out. So, nope, but maybe check for unused encounters.

* Monkey Business - a jungle hexcrawl by my friend Jens (The Disoriented Ranger). This is more "toolbox" (lots of procedures, random tables, etc.) than a finished piece that I can add to my setting. It is full of interesting ideas and weird encounters, however. It has a very gonzo vibe and relies mostly on intelligent monkeys - which I'm not sure I want to add to my setting (but I can easily replace for something else). I can certainly use some jungle encounters and tables (not to mention mushrooms, aliens, villages, tribes, etc.), so... Yes!

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands - A classic. Decided to skip for now because of the description: "The Caves of Chaos themselves showed off the introductory nature of B2 in another way: They're pretty much a who's who of the humanoids you could meet in Basic D&D, with separate caverns inhabited by kobolds, orcs, goblins, ogres, hobgoblins, bugbears, gnolls, and even a minotaur. Gygax later admitted that the result wasn't "ecologically correct," but that wasn't really the point.".". No, not what I'm looking for right now. Nope.

*  The Towers of the Weretoads - A very small location, very terse, PWYW, cool monsters, no orcs... It is free and could fit anywhere. Yes!

Wreck on the Reef - A blog post (from https://clericswearringmail.blogspot.com/search/label/maps and adventures) describing a wrecked ship. It has some authentic "wrecked ship" feel - with a decent amount of empty space, which I like. Too many monsters (although they are fitting - sharks, giant crabs, etc.), which I can edit out. Fits my theme perfectly (the PCs are currently on a ship and the campaign is partly coastal). Yes!

N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God - this one seems perfect. Theme, size... also a classic. I haven't bought and I have hundreds of unread modules... but it looks enticing and not expensive, so... Maybe?

Next: maybe some BFRPG, DCC, and One-page Dungeon stuff. Plus, give me your suggestions!

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Saturday, October 22, 2022

The fighter die (OSR)

This idea is inspired by DCC. I think it can be adapted to B/X (or other OSR games) for two purposes:
  • Make the fighter a bit stronger.
  • Give the fighter alternative maneuvers.
Let's make this as simple as we can.


The fighter gets a fighter die (FD) equal to their level: 1d4 on level 4, 1d6 on level 6, etc. Before level 4, this is replaced by a +1 bonus (use 1d2 if you prefer). After level 12, the die stays at 1d12 and grows no further (if you go all the way to level 20, you could expand this to 2d8 at level 16 and 2d10 at 20).

With each odd fighter level, the fighter can pick a new maneuver. He can use one maneuver per round.
  • Bash: when you hit, add FD to damage.
  • Aim: add FD to your attack roll.
  • Slay: add twice FD to your damage if you crit.
  • Defend: add FD to your AC against a single attack.
  • Protect: add FD to an adjacent allies' AC against a single attack.
  • Take cover: add FD/2 to your AC against ALL attacks.
  • Mark: choose an adjacent target, he gets a penalty equal to your FD if he attacks someone else.
  • Resist: add your FD to one saving throw [notice that this allows fighters to use the same STs as everybody else, a la Target 18].
  • Recover: recover FD HP after you've been hit (no more HP than you lost this round).
  • Cleave: get FD additional attacks against 1 HD foes within reach.
  • Leadership: add +1 to attacks or morale to FD allies.
  • Etc.
Simple and effective. No bookkeeping, no complex math, no need for tables, each "special features" takes a single line and you have about seven at most.

(Notice that the fighter die is roughly equal to half their level; you could repalce it with a "fighter bonus" instead).

Maybe you could give something similar to thieves (to improve their skills and backstabbing) and even clerics (smiting etc.). But it should be even simpler - maybe as a fighter half their level. An 8th-level thief adding 1d4 to their attack (which doubles if you successfully backstab) sounds very reasonable.

MUS? well, they don't need a boost... BUT you can give them cantrips if you want, causing 1d4 damage at level 4 etc.

Well, for now, this is just a random idea. My combat house rules are already getting a bit complicated as it is, so I don't need to add more stuff now. But it could be a worthy addition for a simpler game.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Target 18 spells (B/X)

I've been playing around with Target 18. And, well, it kinda works for spells too.

This is how you do it: no spell slots. Instead, roll 1d20, add your MU level, and try to get 18 PLUS spell level (e.g., 19 for magic missiles, 22 for fireballs, etc.). 

Success means you cast the spell and keep it (with some special effects on a natural 20). Failure means you cast the spell and forget it. A natural 1 might create potential disaster.

(See Alternate Magic for spell mishaps, critical successes, corruption, chaos magic, etc. Most of this is included in the first 10 pages, so you can check it in the preview for free).

Art by Rick Troula - The Displaced.

You can add Int/Wis/Cha modifier if you wish (unless you're already using it for extra spells, since they don't really affect spellcasting under the usual B/X rules).

In any case, MUs learn one new spell per level, and don't have to "memorize" them - nor can they change it in the wild.

This is a bit harsh for MUs (and clerics) at higher levels, but slightly better for low-level casters. I still do not think they'll be weak compared to fighters, etc. And high-level MUs can cast los of magic missiles instead of using darts... with a small chance of failure.

A note on clerics: I have written extensively about them (here is one alternative) and I'm treating them as  a "2/3 caster", which means they get two spells for every three levels and add a smaller bonus to avoid losing them. They do not get access to all spells, but they can choose any while in camp; they are just slightly worse magic-users with different spells, better armor, faster advancement, better weapons, and turn undead.

Monday, October 17, 2022

(A new) Old School Feats review!

Here is a new review of Old School Feats:


Check it out!

The review touches some interesting points. "Multi-classing feats" for example, that look too powerful to some readers. They might be - I might even tone them down in a future revision (if play-testing and feedback point this way) - but I have been trying them and I haven't found them too powerful, ESPECIALLY if compared to the classic multi-classing rules from AD&D (or OSE advanced for that matter).

Here they are: let me know if you can make an unbalanced PC taking one of this feats, and I'll try to fix it (the goal of these feats is to easily create paladins, war clerics, thugs, gishes, shadow mages, etc.).

1.       Dilettante cleric. You can cast spells and turn undead as a cleric half your level (e.g., if you are level 10 you can turn undead and cast spells as a 5th level cleric), but you’re limited to 3rd level cleric spells (See notes on page 19).

2.       Dilettante fighter. You can use any weapon and armor. You can cast spells and even use thief skills in armor, although your ability to climb, move silently and hide is halved in plate armor.

3.       Dilettante mage. You can cast spells as a magic-user half your level.

4.       Dilettante thief. You have access to all the skills of a thief half your level, including read languages (when you get to level 8).

The most powerful of the bunch, IMO, is Dilettante mage, but at most it still weaker than a 10th level elf (same for dilettante fighter). The ability to wield any weapon might make the cleric a bit more powerful... but clerics can raise dead from level 7, so wielding magic swords is a minor feature in comparison!

By the end of the review, he also mentions a couple of other books on OSR feats. I'll have to check those too - they look very good!

Anyway, a good review overall, take a look... and if you like the idea of OSR feats, get the book and see for yourself!

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Old school weapons are terrible (armor too!)

This is a rant... as you noticed from the title.

I complained about 5e weapons, fixed them, and even wrote a couple of books on the subject. Now that I'm playing OS and OSR games, I must say they are equal or worse than 5e when it comes to weapons.

Let's get "unrealistic" out of the way, since "realism" is really hard to get and to measure. Weapons are too heavy, armor is too cheap, everything is too expensive (and that might be a good idea), but let's leave that aside. I'll not even dwell on the fact that plate armor costs the same as 12 garlic because I believe this is a typo (that nonetheless gets repeated in OSR clones).

The problem is that many weapons are useless or redundant (e.g., the short sword is identical to the mace in every aspect, except it is more expensive and cannot be used by cleric, while the spear is just better and cheaper; the battleaxe is slightly cheaper than the sword but it is slow, two-handed, a terrible weapon in comparison... and it's lighter, which is baffling). This is from B/X, BTW.

I think the problem has a lot to do with the evolution of D&D. I explained it here (and now I notice I'm repeating myself a bit. You know what, you can read THAT post and skip the next four paragraphs if you prefer).

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In chainmail, all weapons dealt 1d6 damage, but you had a weapon versus armor table to differentiate weapons and make some weapons different better in some circumstances. also, when you're dealing with troops, price might be important (when you need 2000 gp to get to level 2, price is definitely not important).

Then you have Holmes, which showcases all the problems in a glaring manner. All weapons deal 1d6, but some of the biggest, heaviest, most expensive ones are also slower, for example, making them not only entirely pointless but also detrimental to characters that do not want to use a dagger.

B/X has an optional rule to allow some weapons to deal more damage, so it fixes some issues: expensive, heavy weapons are more effective.

AD&D uses different damage dice too, but tries to keep other traits to make weapons diverse, including  speed, space, and a weapon versus AC table with glaring arithmetical errors that not even Gygax used. AD&D 2e has a better, somewhat simpler table, IMO.
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3e and 4e are not my favorite editions, but their weapons work a lot better than old-school D&D. Even 5e with all its flaws is better than any of the TSR editions in that aspect.

And I'm not even saying that you need much complexity. On the contrary. It is obvious to me that removing the "slow" aspect from Holmes or B/X would improve the game. You might use 1d6 for all I care - this is just an abstraction, period.

So, I'm done complaining. Should we try to fix it?

It shouldn't be hard. First, let's make slow weapons only gives you -1 initiative. This is a rule I added to my (free) OSR Minimalist document. Add a "fast" tag for some weapons and voilà: even someone with a dagger can occasionally have an advantage over a mace. With a couple of words and a single digit (slow 2, fast 1) you add another dimension to the system - and I bet I don't even need to explain you what slow 2 means!

[Notice that this is not perfect, either, as longer weapons should have an advantage at least on the first round. Unless you're backstabbing, as it should be - in fact, adding speed bonus to back-stab would be great, as it gives thieves a reason to use daggers. There is an entire post to be written about how weapon speed and initiative do not work together for precisely this reason, but we'll leave that for another time]

As you can see, we could go either way: easy or complex.

This is from Dark Fantasy Basic (OH means off-hand, etc. - see below):


There is a lot more to it, but basically heavier/expensive weapons deal more damage. That might be enough. The rest adds fiddly bits that I enjoy but increase complexity a bit. I'll paste the entire page below so you can judge for yourself.

Of course, you could go even deeper, with an usable weapon versus armor table and various special effects for each weapon. This might even justify a Manual of Weapons for OSR games. Of course, it would be shorter (probably including weapons and armor) and simpler than my 5e manuals. What do you think?

For now, I'll be using The Basic Fantasy Equipment Emporium for my B/X-like games. It is free and awesome (it even corrects the price of garlic, lol), which makes me reconsider if it is worth writing another book on the subject. But I might try. A "fixed" version of 5e has simple weapon tags that could work for OSR games. We will see.

Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A d20 reaction check (OSR)

The original D&D reaction table is one of the most important components of the game, and it is often ignored in modern versions (starting on 3e). I feel this table is fundamental because it "activates" other parts of the game, such as Charisma and languages, and adds an entire new dimension to monsters: they are not only bags of XP, but individuals who are as likely to be helpful and to attack on sight.

Teratogenicon has an entire chapter on roleplaying monsters. Here is my version of the B/X table, included there. It's basically the same thing as the original, with a few additions to account for various circumstances (for example, a weak monster shouldn't usually attack a bigger one on sight):

Anyway. As you can see "attack on sight" is very rare - one chance in 36. Which is good, IMO - it leaves for room for interaction before combat. Bribery, distraction, negotiation, etc. "Immediately helpful" is equally rare. So, in most circumstances, you have to evaluate what to do.

It works perfectly. 

Well, with some caveats.

In B/X, this roll is modified by your Charisma. From the OSE SRD

First, the "-2 to +2" modifier breaks the elegance of the "-3 to +3" in almost every other ability. 

This is necessary, however, as most abilities modify d20 rolls, and this one modifies 2d6. A -3 or +3 here would be HUGE; a +5 (which is possible if you're playing Dark Fantasy Basic, for example) is basically impossible to use, as it would turn every monster into an ally or a neutral creature at worst.

Second, you have to be careful when using this. OSE, attempting to explain B/X, says this on the matter:

Monster Actions

The referee determines monsters’ reaction to the party. Sometimes, circumstances make it obvious how a monster will react. Otherwise, the referee may roll on the table below to determine how a monster reacts to the party.

Charisma: If one specific character attempts to speak with the monsters, that character’s NPC reactions modifier due to CHA (see Ability Scores) is used to modify the monster reaction roll. 

This is sensible. It doesn't mention languages, but should be obvious: it is hard to communicate if you don't know the monster's language. What's more, it is probably hard to talk to a monster that attacks on sight. So, even with a positive Charisma, there is a chance of immediate attack.

But then there are some issues.

First, negative Charisma means a PC should never attempt to communicate - it might make helpful monsters turn on him immediately.

Second, if the reaction determined by circumstances, as suggest above, Charisma doesn't affect the reaction at all - at least if you use rules as written. 

The reason that this still works is because interactions are represented through roleplaying, not die rolls. But sometimes it might be cool to play a silver-tongued character, such as bard, mountebank or leader... without necessarily being a silver-tongued player.

The solution, IMO, is tackling this from a different angle: Charisma doesn't affect reaction rolls. Reaction rolls are for the GM alone. Charisma affects attempts to change the monster's behavior.

Which method you use to handle it is a matter of preference. I might use target 18, with -3 to +3 from Charisma, and the usual +4 to -4 from circumstances. Offering food or treasure definitely helps. A success means the reaction improved by one step (from hostile to neutral, for example). Further negotiation is needed to improve it further. A d20 roll also leaves space for class bonuses, feats, or skills (see Persuasion in DFB, for example).

Now, this is important: most of the process is still role-playing. It is only when the GM is unsure of the result that the dice come out. But when they do - then the charismatic PC has a decent advantage.

This has another upside: charisma only "activates" when players want to make an effort. The roll is delayed, sometimes ignored (if the offer is good enough). This feels more natural and useful - there is a space between "see how the monster feels at first" and "see how the monster reacts to the PC's offers". The second roll is informed by the PCs approach - a threat, for example, may cause a monster to be "helpful", but this is completely different than being helpful at first sight.

Finally, this leaves 2d6 rolls for the GM, with some exceptions (turn undead, morale, loyalty). come to think of it, morale and loyalty might benefit from a similar approach. But that's the subject for another post.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

The simplest critical hit table (OSR etc.)

I'm running a Dark Fantasy Basic campaign and I'm messing with critical hits a little. This is a simple solution I came up with, but it seems to hit all the goals I'd want for such a system:

- It makes crits meaningful.
- It causes "extreme" results, possibly turning the tide of battle.
- Extreme results are uncommon.
- It takes the the attacker's ability and weapon into account.
- It takes armor into account (and makes armor more meaningful).
- It is very easy to remember even without a table.
- It usually replaces the damage roll, instead of adding another roll.

It has some cool "side effects" too, as you'll notice after you read it:

- It can make 1d6+1 weapons meaningfully distinct from 1d8 weapons, for example.
- You can add a "brutal" or "fast" tags to your weapons that only activates on crits, making a 1d6 axe feel very different than a 1d6 rapier (for example, an axe has +1 damage but a rapier has +1 when attacking again).
- If your character is a tough fighter crits on a 19-20 (for example, using Old School Feats), or even on lower numbers, a natural 20 is still "special" because the margin is higher.

Here is how it goes: a natural 20 causes a critical hit (increased damage) AND allows you another attack (against the same target or other target within reach).

When you crit, roll a d20 and add the margin of success. For example, if you had a +7 to hit and the target AC is 15, your margin is 12 (27 minus 15). Then, compare the results with the following table.
 
9 or less: normal damage.
10+: maximum damage.
20+: max damage x2.
30+: max damage x3.
40+: max damage x4.
Natural 20: roll again with a +10 bonus "ad infinitum".

[Easy to remember: 10 means 100% damage, 20 means 200% etc. If you want to reduce damage a bit, you could keep 10 as maximum damage, and let 20, 30, 40, etc. for double, triple, quadruple damage; notice that double damage is slightly higher on average than maximum damage, especially if you have a positive Strength modifier].

Notice that "normal damage" is an uncommon occurrence, only happening with a clumsy attacker against plate armor or something similar. If you are unarmored, then EVERY crit will deal maximum damage... or more! Nice!


The second part of the crit (...AND allows you another attack) pretty much guarantees that a crit will rarely be wasted.

The combined effects are devastating.

If that's too much for you, a simpler alternative is letting player choose: roll in the crit table OR get a free attack. 

Or even better: deal maximum damage, PLUS choose another attack or roll on the crit table (with a +10 bonus). It allows you to "cleave" through foes if they are weak enough.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe Edition - another Deal of the day!

One of my favorite OSR games, Low Fantasy Gaming*, is DTRPG's deal of the day again.

For only 4 bucks, this is a steal.

I wrote a review of the original version a few years ago; this version (which I haven't read) is expanded with more art (with a full color version!), more content (including a lot more classes), etc.

You can't go wrong with this one. It really nails the S&S feel, and has great additions o OSR games in general (my favorites are combat exploits, dangerous magic, and monster special abilities on a natural 19, but I also like the Luck attribute and all the random tables).

Here is the blurb:
Low Fantasy Gaming is a tabletop RPG built for gritty adventures in low or moderate magic settings. It has simple rules, dangerous combat, flexible PC customisation, and mysterious, unpredictable magic. Designed for short, episodic adventures in sandbox worlds, LFG provides the mechanics and tables needed for easy GM improvisation. It’s a heady mix of the best old school, modern, and new game design, wrapped around a familiar d20 core.

And here is another thing I truly appreciate:

Open Game Content: 99% of LFG text is "Open Game Content" under the Open Game Licence. Want to make your own adventures or expansions for LFG and sell them? Go right ahead!

Every game should do that!


*By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Spell points for B/X and OSR systems

This is an excerpt from various sections of Alternate Magic. I leave it here for easy access when people ask me how to implement spell points in OSR systems.

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At low levels, this is nearly identical to the existing rules. At high levels, casters gain some versatility (they can cast the same spells more often) but they can memorize and cast fewer spells.

If you use this optional rule, the number of spells learned is simply equal to caster level (minus one for clerics). For example, a 5th-level magic-user knows five spells. Spells only need to be memorized once, and they are automatically remembered daily. With the exception of first level spells, each caster can only learn two spells per spell level (a 10th level MU knows 10 spells, usually 2 for each spell level from one to five).

The maximum spell level that spellcasters can cast are unchanged*:  for elves and magic-users, maximum spell level is equal to half their level (round UP), while clerics is the same but round DOWN, to a maximum of five. Clerics do not rely on grimoires but can only memorize a limited number of spells, like other casters.

(*except for the cleric; see here if you want to know some of the reasons).

A 5th level magic-user, for example, can cast 3rd level spells. A 10th-level cleric can cast 5th level spells.

Spell points (SP) are the first alternative to spell slots. Under this system, casting spells require spending SP equal to the spell's level; a 3rd level spell, for example, requires 3 SP to cast. Check the table below to see how many SP each class gets.

If you do not want to use a table, calculating SP is easy: for odd levels, it is maximum spell level times itself (for example, 9 SP for a 5th level magic-user). For even levels, just add your maximum spell level to the previous total (for example, 12 SP for a 6th level mage). If you reached your maximum spell level, you only gain a number of SP equal to your maximum spell level for every new level. 

Spell points are fully replenished after a full night of sleep.



Monday, October 03, 2022

The Golden Age of Khares KS


Here is the blurb:
The Golden Age of Khares is a psychedelic sword & sandal setting sourcebook designed for the Tabletop RPG system Low Fantasy Gaming. In it, the Kharesian Empire is described, a fictional bronze age society made up of a collection of city states with a shared culture. The world of Khares is one of sword & sandal high adventure that takes inspiration from old Biblical Epics and Italian Peplum films. 
A Low Fantasy Gaming psychedelic bronze age setting? Sounds like a great idea to me! LFG is not my clone of choice (as I have my own) but it is full of cool stuff (see my review in the link).

The author sent me a copy of the free version, which is still a bit rough - but the finished prudcut will apparently look much better, even he free version. You can see some images on KS (and below). The art by Carlos Castilho (I used his art exclusively for the interior of Old School Feats), Yuri Perkowski, etc. looks good, with a very OSR feel. 

Overall, the free version looks somewhat like the original LFG, but he KS aims to fund a "deluxe version" that might look even better.

If that sounds interesting, check the link above!