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

Friday, September 30, 2022

Old School Feats review!

Old School Feats got a new review over Pseudonym Writes. You can read the whole thing here. Here is the conclusion:


If you’re part of the core target audience – people who want a way to spice up a game if B/X, OSE, Labyrinth Lord, or some other retroclone that sticks very closely to the original rules – then yes, absolutely. It’s a great upgrade to those systems in my opinion.

If you’re already committed to another OSR game … maybe. It’s only $5, there are definitely some cool system-agnostic ideas in here, and won’t take that much hacking to get it to work. Even if you’re playing a non-OSR D&D game (or D&D clone), there are some ideas in here that will likely work in your system, and it’s worth thinking about.

If you’re looking for something that will run perfectly out of the box with zero balance issues or duct-taping required to make it work, then no, probably not. Even if you’re running a B/X game. It’s simultaneously very fuzzy and loose in some places and hyper-specific in others. But if that’s what you want, why on earth are you playing a B/X clone? D&D was never balanced right out of the box.

Overall, I think it was a very fair review, even the criticisms.

OSR feats does not fit perfectly to non-B/X systems - I don't think it would be possible to create a book of feats that worked for both Knave and The Black Hack, for example, so I chose to stick with a single system (which happens to be my favorite, and also the most popular right now IMO - since it is very close to OSE, LL and BFRPG). But, as he says, the ideas are adaptable for other systems.

I also agree that it is not perfectly balanced. I do think, however, it IMPROVES balance when compared to baseline B/X (which is an issue the review addresses in the last sentence).

Finally, the book was indeed written with a great effort to be perfectly compatible with B/X, using existing classes, skills, mechanics, etc. I avoided adding new mechanics or more complexity. I DO think it is possible to improve some aspects of B/X, however, and I've already written a system with this in mind (Dark Fantasy Basic).

TBH, I'm a bit torn on these two approaches: keep things perfectly compatible with B/X, to reach a wider audience, or do my own thing, changing every bit of old school D&D to better suit my needs and to make a complete, coherent game of my own, mixing B/X, OSR, and modern stuff.

Let's see. For now, I'm tackling races. In 2023, I might do something more ambitious: either an entire book of B/X options or a coherent Dark Fantasy Compendium. Let me know if you have a preference for either one!

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Polyglot dwarves and elves - dungeon dialects

In B/X, ALL elves and dwarves speak six languages each. It is one language more than the smartest human wizard (well, unless you're using something like Old School Feats to become a linguist...).

Is EVERY dwarf a polyglot? This doesn't make sense... 


What if these are similar dialects? Dwarves speak "Dwarvish, Gnomish, Goblin, Kobold". You can see dwarves and gnomes (their cousins) sharing a language, right? What if goblins and kobolds learned with them? This is the language of the (short) underground people.

What about elves? They speak "Elvish, Gnoll, Hobgoblin, Orcish". Sounds strange, since those are monsters in B/X terms. 

Orcs are "ugly, bad-tempered, animalistic humanoids who live underground and are active at night. Sadistic bullies who hate other living creatures and delight in killing." in the OSE SRD.

Hobgoblins are "Larger and nastier relatives of goblins. Dwell underground, but commonly seek prey above ground.".

And gnolls are "Lazy, humanoid hyenas of low intelligence that live by intimidation and theft. Legends say that gnolls were magically created by a wizard who crossbred gnomes and trolls."

Now, this doesn't make ANY sense... 

Unless short species have tighter social connection than taller species. Which sounds a bit ludicrous.

Or, we can rationalize it saying that gnolls, hobgoblins and orcs spent their waking hours outside... only sleeping in caves, etc. Or that orcs are warped elves (as in Tolkien). And trolls are related to elves somehow (as in Poul Anderson). And hobgloblins are... well, a mix of elves and goblins?

But it is all a bit unintuitive and forced.

And I didn't even mention alignment languages until now.

Languages in B/X is one of those idiosyncrasies - like immunity to ghoul paralysis - that works in Basic (there are few monsters, you can speak with some of them), barely works in Expert (now there are more than a hundred monsters) and break if you're expanding the game even further.

You can handwave it, use it as written, or ignore it altogether (as I've seem frequently). 

However, having coherent languages improves immensely on world-building... as everyone who read Tolkien knows.

Dark Fantasy Basic tries to make some sense of language - including alignment languages, "common" and dialects. You can read the whole thing here. It doesn't deal with demi-human languages, however.

Well, my next book is likely to be about demi-humans... And I'm wondering if it should include some ideas on languages. For now, I think I'd just say that elves and dwarves speak only three languages by default - and the last three languages on either list can only be picked by high-Intelligence characters.

And "cousin" languages can communicate, albeit with some difficulty: dwarf/gnome, goblin/hobgoblin, and maybe even elf/orc... depending on your setting.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Why I like minimalism: complexity is exponential, and exceptions raise complexity

I've been preaching minimalism (or elegance) for a while now. One reason why this is so important to my games is because complexity is exponential. In other words, sometimes adding three or four paragraphs adds an unexpected amount of complexity to the game that to you become a hurdle for each new ruling our change I want to implement.

A simple example: if you have five different saving throws, every new class has to include a savings throw chart. Adding a sixth saving throw requires you to change all classes.

Another example. B/X has seven classes (fighter, MU, cleric, thief, elf, dwarf, halfling). If we separate race from class (fighter, MU, cleric, thief, in combination with human, elf, dwarf, halfling), we have sixteen possible combinations. Which, by itself, is not a problem; on the contrary, you only have to analyze two sets of four to get sixteen options. 

(I'm using B/X as an example because it is already a very minimalistic game compared to AD&D or modern systems. Sometimes people seem baffled when I mention I think D&D 5e is too complex - let alone B/X. I think it illustrates my point).

Now, let's say some class-race combinations are forbidden. Say, dwarves cannot be mages. This exception, by itself, does not add complexity; in fact it removes an option. But now, for every new class and new race you want to add, you have to consider which combinations are allowed. If you have ten classes, now every race has ten units of information added (or more - "can you take this class", "what is your level limit"). Analyzing a race to pick has become a lot harder.

[This is a reason why race-as-class is USEFUL, BTW. If you use that, new classes includes race, level limits, and everything else that is needed. You could have a fifty different classes without adding significant complexity to the game. I prefer, however, having fewer options but more combinations, e.g., ten classes and ten races].

What about multi-classing? "Take a level in another class" is simple enough. See 3e D&D (well, it is not THAT simple, but it is okay). But notice that the complexity spreads - races have favored classes, which affects multi-classing. Creating a new race takes longer. CHOOSING a race takes longer. And if some multi-class are forbidden, adding a new class affects the complexity of ALL existing classes because you have one more combination to analyze.

Notice that, because of this, complexity LIMITS choice. You cannot have 20 races if each race has to consider 10 classes, lest races become a list of exceptions and limitations. (I am writing a small B/X-inspired book with more than 20 races, BTW - see below).

Here is another common problem. Say I buy a setting book that includes a new race... and notice a cool new class in ANOTHER setting book. If "level limits" or "class restrictions" are required, these two things simply do not communicate, unless you adapt them yourself. 


A small digression:

This is also related to the reason I dislike small mechanical features that simply do not come up 99% of the time. For example, everyone who has played enough B/X knows elves are immune to ghoul paralysis. You probably don't have to write it in your sheet. But there are maybe 150 monsters in B/X, and the ghoul is only one of them. This is adding complexity to the elf for no reason (notice that immunity can be limited to the GHOUL'S description instead of the elf's description). 

Also, "immune to ghoul paralysis" is not the kind of information that should be used to describe an elf in a few paragraphs. Yes, this can be an interesting fact about elves if you're writing "the book of elves", but when selecting a race for your PC this is as important as writing that elves are "an important ingredient of thri-kreen cuisine".

This also reminds me that certain "facts" about races are setting specific - so, it is conceivable that "elves cannot be clerics" is only true for some settings and thus shouldn't be included in the elf's description.

I was jut listening John Vervaeke on Lex Fridman mention an interesting thing: when we see a dog in the street, we might say 'look, a dog eating a bone", instead of "a mammal", "an animal", or "a cocker spaniel" (or even "an ingredient of goblin cuisine"). There is an ideal level of depth/detail when trying to describe something in an useful way.


In short, this is why I prefer minimalist systems: I can add my own stuff with minimum effort. 

This is why I do not use multiple saving throws, separate XP tracks, level limits, class limits, ability requirements, etc., in my games. 

Dark Fantasy Basic is built entirely with such ideas. It is a complete overhaul of Moldvay's Basic. I think it might deserve some updating, maybe in 2023-2024, to add GM rules, races and monsters. But it will take a while.

Old School Feats is my first take on expanding B/X without adding complexity: only four classes are considered (fighter, MU, cleric, thief), but within this four classes you add abilities that are usually reserved to druids, warlords, rangers, paladins and mountebanks, WITHOUT having more XP tables, saving throw tables. It also adds a minimalist version of multi-classing that has worked well for me (does not involve XP). Well, half the book is in the previews, so you can see for yourself. 

My next project is a book on races. I'll try to keep the same goal: adding options, NOT exponential complexity. Race separated from class, no level limits, but I'll probably make some concessions to the original rules to make it perfectly compatible to B/X.

Finally, if you want a minimalist take on OSR games, you can check it here ("Minimalist OSR"). It is still unfinished and it's free. I'd love to hear your feedback!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

OSR piecemal armor

The subject came up on the Gaming Ballistic blog. Douglas has written several interesting books on combat, including Dragon Heresy (I contributed a page) and Dungeon Grappling (my review). 

I like the idea of piecemeal armor, I've written some post on the subject myself - and a complete treatment for 5e games in 5e Manual of Arms: Armor & Shields (also here and here). If you want more ideas on 5e armor, check this one out. I don't remember writing anything like this for OSR games, however.

I really like Stella's idea... it suits my minimalist instincts well. See (from the OSE SRD):

The pattern is obvious (2/4/6, 20/40/60, 200/400/...well, 500) except for plate mail being a bit lighter than we might expect. Let's make it a bit heavier and voilá: you don't even need a table anymore.

Armor is also too cheap in B/X when compared to weapons (and garlic, but that's another story). Multiply the cost by 10, and now weight = cost in gold.

Let's say any armor lighter than 400 (AC 14) is considered light armor. So you can wear leather with a heavy helmet, or you can add greaves, or run around naked with helmet and shield... 

How much each part weights? Again, because of my minimalist tastes, I'm tempted to divide it evenly. Maybe in four parts (legs, arms, torso and head), maybe five (shoulders).

Let me paste a bit from Armor & Shields:

In the first chapter, and throughout this book, we play fast and loose with “realism”. There are a few reasons for that.
First, this is a game of dragons and flying wizards, and we don’t usually let realism get in the way of our fun until the suspension of disbelief becomes annoying (if it does, feel free to ignore any of the options present here). The usual rules are not particularly realistic, either. It is highly debatable, for example, if leather armor is particularly efficient (when compared to padded armor)...
Second, even if we were trying to make things more realistic, we would have to recognize that there is no way to say, for example, that every breastplate weights (or costs) the same.
Real armor can vary immensely in weight, size, composition, etc. There are layers (a breastplate with chain armor, with padding underneath), materials (linen, iron, leather, horn, stone), quality (hardened iron, leather from different monsters, etc.), symmetry (gladiator armor could be asymmetrical) and craftsmanship (butted mail versus riveted mail, etc.) to consider. Some of these topics are discussed on chapter IV.
The issue is further complicated because, even in the original rules, some types or armor are just smaller parts of others, while some include greaves, many layers, or are completely fictional. As the nomenclature is all over [...]
To make things a lot simpler, you could just ignore the names of the armor and judge it by weight and AC. Let the players choose if they are wearing a helmet, shoulder pads, leather or chain to protect the joints, etc.
Now the table is neatly organized in order of AC and weight.
Light Armor: Made from supple and thin materials, such as linen, leather, etc. Alternatively, fight bare-chested with an iron helmet and greaves, or heavy winter clothing.
Medium Armor: made of hardier materials, mostly metal – in plates, scales, strips in varying sizes or metal rings (interlocking or sewn into leather), and a layer of padding underneath. Alternatively, a breastplate with greaves, braces, etc., but some exposed gaps (joints, etc.).
Heavy Armor: covers the entire body in thick metal, mostly in large plates, plus padding. It includes a helmet, gorget, or both.
Within these guidelines, you can call your armor padded, gambeson, leather, hide, scale, chain, ring, brigandine, breastplate, lorica segmentata, mirror armor, just helmet and braces, dark clothing and a cape, or anything of the sort. We used the terms “gambeson” and “brigandine” in chapter I to fill existing gaps, not to include any realistic versions of these types of armor. You might as well say you are wearing a “long, thick gambeson” for medium armor, for example.
The materials you can use to build armor are described on chapter IV.
It makes me think... is there enough interest for a "Manual of arms" book for OSR games? Certainly there is much to add and a little to  "fix" in the original game (for example, I don't think "slow" weapons need to suffer that much). 

As you've noticed, I like to keep things simple. So, maybe 20-30 pages, adding minimum crunch but lots of options. Like Old School Feats.

Well, maybe that's the subject for another post. But if you like the idea, let me know!

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master (review)

I got Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master a long time ago and just left it in my tablet. I had heard great things about it, and recently I picked it up randomly and started reading. In short, it is a very good book of "intermediate" GM advice and tips.

I haven't read the first book yet, but this is an updated version, making the first unnecessary, apparently. This is a teaching tool; the advice is repeated and recapitulated often. The margins are big and colorful. In short, there is less content than you might expect from 100 pages, but the content included is good. 

There is some decent art in addition to a few amazing pieces repeated throughout the book. It has a strong D&D 5e vibe but it is useful to most kinds of RPG (especially high fantasy adventure with modern RPG sensibilities). Since this is mostly an OSR blog, I must notice that this is NOT exactly an OSR supplement (see below).

Let's skim through each chapter...

PREPARING FOR YOUR GAME - The book starts with a simple checklist off ideas on how to create a good session. It is a good, small yet comprehensive list: PCs, strong start, scenes, clues, locations, NPCs/monsters and magic item. 

The "strong start" part suggests beginning each session with action or something equally intense, but it lacks some examples on how to do it after the first session (maybe end ach session with a cliffhanger? I've tried it, and it has pros and cons). The part on clues is really good. This part also talks about tools and tips (reskinning, session zero, etc.).

RUNNING YOUR GAME - Has some tips on improvising, when to use minis and grids, collaborative storytelling, pacing, etc. Good advice overall, if a bit superficial. It just states some of the author's tastes without dwelling much on the pros and cons of each, or other possibilities (for example, running entire campaigns without grids or minis).

THINKING ABOUT YOUR GAME - Is about getting ideas. It has the author's own "appendix N" of books, movies, etc., it suggest you take a walk while thinking of RPGs, etc. Taking a walk is good advice, I think...

APPENDICES - Lots of surveys on "what most people do", how many hours they prep, how many combats, etc. I do not think this data is particularly relevant, and the author admits the majority isn't necessarily right (70% of the 5e GMs alter the monster's HP during combat - make of that what you will).

Overall, this is a very good book for intermediate GMs. It doesn't teach you to play the game, nor does it go to deep into ideas like railroading*, house rules or pointcrawls. Beginner and advanced GMs will also benefit from the book, as it contains advice every GM should know (although not necessarily agree).

[* The books is more or less agnostic on the matter, suggesting you avoid strict railroading (without mentioning or explaining the term directly) but also suggesting improvisation that sometimes feels like railroading to me, like changing secrets you've written down before if the player's haven't found it, Schrödinger style.]

The initial checklist is very good for GMs of any level, in my opinion. Some of the other parts (grids, collaborative storytelling, etc.) are mostly a mater of taste IMO. But maybe they are worth the try if you haven't heard of them before. 

It does not have a strong OSR flavor, nor a strong "story game" one - it occupies the same kind of "middle ground" that 5e D&D occupied at first. With that said, some advice is useful for OSR games, some are not - you will have to choose for yourself.

In short: good book, I'm glad I've read it. I have some other book by the same author that I might review in the future.

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Thursday, September 15, 2022

Alternate Magic - First review!

Alternate Magic received its first review on DTRPG!

"This is the most comprehensive yet concise resource I've found for someone who wants to spice up how magic works in their old-school games."


I'm very pleased with this, not only because it is very positive, but also because good feedback is hard to get.

If you like my products, leaving a review is useful in many ways! And if you want to provide feedback - for existing products or future ones - get in touch! Leave a comment, or add me in Reddit, MeWe, etc. If you have a blog, podcast, etc., let me know if you want a review copy of one of my books.

And if you publish your own OSR products, you can also get in touch with me to get some feedback or maybe a review.

Anyway, here you go:

If you want to know more about Alternate Magic, just check the previews - almost half the book is in there!

Monday, September 12, 2022

Minimalist OSR: Target 18?

I talk about Target 20 a lot in this blog. [for this post, I'm assuming you are familiar with Target 20]. I really like it. 

A few weeks ago, someone (might have been John Stater, author of Blood & Treasure* - this game looks awesome!) mentioned to me they used 18 instead of 20. 

And, well, I like this one too.

First, THAC0. Target 18 is a bit off, although target 20 is not perfect either. Doesn't bother me. Fighters and monsters hit more often if you're using descending AC and this system, which is nice. But, overall, I prefer ascending AC these days, so this is not a primary concern.

Now, thief skills. Again, target 20 works well, but target 18 gives the 1st level thief 20% chance with this system. It is closer to the original values, and thieves deserve a boost.

Same for saves. If you're using a single save, which I prefer, 18 is closer to the original numbers. And anything much lower makes it too easy if you're adding your whole level to saves, as Target 20 does.

Finally, 18 is, by itself, a 15% chance. And this is almost the same as 1-in-6 chances. You can use this as an universal mechanic to do anything for PCs that have no skills.

Anyway, here is what I am using for OSR minimalist system. You should check it out - there is a draft in my public folder.

To do anything, roll 1d20, add your ability score modifier plus other modifiers (e.g., from class or race), with 18 or more signifying success. A “challenging” difficulty is assumed; the GM may set other difficulty number (DC) for particularly easy or hard task, as indicated in the table below.

Notice that a DC of 18 is similar to 1-in-6 chances or 15% chance, making it easy to convert tasks from other systems to this one (e.g., if you have 3-in-6 chances of getting lost, avoiding it is an “easy” check). 4-in-6 would be closer to DC 7 but I like the 6-10-14-18 progression. Maybe I change it to 4-7-10-14-18 to fit the x-in-6 pattern...

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Thursday, September 01, 2022

A arte de Rick Troula!

[This one is for my Brazilian friends! As soon as there is an English version, I'll write another post!].

Queridos amigos, meu parça Rick Troula criou uma campanha no Catarse para financiar o livro de arte dele. O link da campanha é esse aqui:

Além de ter ilustrado vários dos meus livros de RPG (especialmente o Teratogenicon e capa do Dark Fantasy Basic), ele trabalhou em filmes, videogames, quadrinhos, jogos de cartas, e outros RPGs legais (Dragon Heresy, etc.). 

Tem MUITA arte legal de RPG nesse livro dele, além de outros temas. É só dar uma olhada no link acima pra ver alguns exemplos!

E, pra quem comprar logo, tem um desconto ("mecenas ligeiro").

Essa campanha tem entrega todo o Brasil. O Rick vai estar entregando livros na CCXP também.