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

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Rulings on the fly: griffons + B/X + DMG + 4e/5e + actual play

I am running a Dark Fantasy Basic sandbox/hexcrawl campaign for several sessions now. I'm using DCC and LotFP adventures, monsters from OSE and AD&D... it is a bit of a mess. At the same time, I've been reading the original DMG and looking for ideas to apply to my own DFB / B/X campaign.

Last night, the PCs went exploring the wilderness and ran into a small pack of griffons. I imagined they would do some kind of "swooping attack" like a bird, but I had no rules for that (either in DFB or B/X, as far as I could remember)... so I made some rulings, and took inspiration from the DMG, 5e (the owl has a "flyby" attack) and even 4e!

This was my ruling: the griffon would attack only with its claws, without landing. If you win initiative, you can attack first... IF the griffon is attacking you specifically. Otherwise, you had to use ranged weapons.

[Fun fact: the 2e MM mentions these tactics but not any actual mechanics for that AFAICR].

I got hand-wavy with "actions": yes, you can trade a bow for a sword without affecting your attacks, as the griffons fly over you to attack again. One minute rounds can justify lots of stuff...

And then I used an idea from the DMG: winged creatures cannot fly at less than half HP (which 4e call "bloodied" and uses for multiple monster actions) since their wings are probably hurt. There could be other useful rules in the DMG I ignored... let me know if you remember anything. 

Eventually, the PCs got together with their hirelings in a tight pack so any could attack a griffon with their magic swords.

The griffons landed after a while... and then they got to use their claws AND bite, becoming more dangerous (but more vulnerable). Notice that if they had been protecting their nests they'd probably just stand and fight.

It was a fun fight, bigger than the sum of its parts. Just thought I'd share this with you.

It is good to have a favorite version of D&D or, even better, create your own. But I'm also glad to mix bits and pieces, even from editions I don't like or play anymore. And to come up with my own stuff.

In conclusion, I don't think I'll be able to play anything RAW anytime soon...

UPDATE: turns out this is already in the rules, as pointed out in the comments (X27):
Swoop: This is a diving attack, used by certain flying monsters. If the flier has surprise the swoop attack does double damage. Swoop attacks cannot be attempted against opponents hidden by dense forest or jungle cover. In addition, on a roll of 18+, the creature has grasped the victim and will try to fly away. If the character is too heavy, the monster will release him or her and attack normally the next round.
B/X doesn't see to specific which attacks (should we include bite?), nor does it mention swooping for griffons or giant hawks (only for rocs), but this is covered if you check the 2e MM as suggested above. Still, it doesn't quite answer the question "can you attack a flying griffon?", AFAICT... so maybe there is some point to my ruling.

So, I guess the rules are there, if you look for them... My bad. At least my instincts (or memory) made some sense during the session.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Death's Door Table

This table is adapted from Dark Fantasy Basic. In this game, you don't die immediately when you reach 0 HP. Instead, all excess damage goes to Constitution (which takes longer to replenish; zero Constitution means death) and you have to roll on the Death's Door Table.

You can use this table for almost any OSR RPG that uses HP (and also 5e, maybe in combination with this rule). I'm leaving this here for future reference, since I'm running a Dark Fantasy Basic campaign. I might add some lasting damage (on limbs, etc.) option later on, or maybe an entirely new table - not sure.

If you're feeling particularly benevolent, immediate death can be held for one round with a death saving throw - but you must roll again next round, and there's no third chance.

You don't need to use this for NPCs, but if you do, either count them as having 10 Constitution or Constitution equal to their HD. Undead/automatons have no Constitution here and no NPCs will fight after they lost Constitution (but the table might be useful to see if someone survived to give information, etc.).

One final warning: do not think this will protect your PC from death at 0 HP. The fact that you can survive 0 HP will often encourage to fight longer than you need and risk you life on unwinnable battles. Pick your battles with care!

Death’s Door table (1d20)
1. Immediate death.
2-7. The PC is dying, but able to act normally. Take 1d6 points of Constitution damage and roll again next turn.
8-14. The PC is unconscious and can be easily slain, but will wake up in 1d4 hours (with 1 HP) if undisturbed.
15-19. The PC is disabled; conscious but barely able to move. Move is halved and rolls are made with
disadvantage (-4).
20. Fight on! Recover 1 HP and suffer no ill effects for now.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Darkness Weaves (book review) - The darkest fantasy you'll find

Darkness Weaves is the first Kane book written by Karl Edward Wagner. It is also one of the darkest S&S books I've ever read.

Here is the Wikipedia summary: "The mad sorceress Efrel seeks war and revenge upon her erstwhile husband, king Netisten Maril, and enlists Kane as her general in command of an army of mercenaries and monsters."

* The book was written published in abridged version in 1970, but the a restored version was published in 1978 (which is the one I read, AFAICT). It is not the first book by internal chronology but I find it a great introduction to the series, and it is very self-contained.

If you're into Dark Fantasy and S&S, this book is a must read. 

According to Wikipedia, "as an editor, [Wagner] created a three-volume set of Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian fiction restored to its original form as written". The REH influence is obvious in this book - but his Kane is no mere Conan pastiche. If Elric is an "inverted Conan" of sorts (a sorcerer king from a decadent civilization), Kane is Conan on (even more) steroids. Or even Conan plus Elric, but even more callous, flawed and ambitious - not a tragic or brute hero, but a straight anti-hero. 

He is a fighter and a sorcerer, with the power of youth and the wisdom of the ancient; an "eternal champion" of sorts; a criminal and a commander, a loner and a peerless leader. In short, the kind of character that deserves to be drawn by Frank Frazzeta.

Kane's invincibility may sounds cringey, but Wagner somehow dodges this feeling most of the time, which is remarkable. In one of the coolest moments of the book (near the half), you'll find the origin of his might (and name)... since I didn't read much about Kane before, I really enjoyed this (I recommend you do the same).

In a previous review, I mentioned The Blade Itself fails at dark fantasy. Darkness Weaves not only succeeds -  it overdelivers. This is dark to the point of "grimdark" - like Berserk or Warhammer (without much of the humor). Everyone is evil and duplicitous (except maybe for one character - and you get the feeling she will pay dearly for being nice). Everyone suffers to no end, and most of the cast is dead eventually. There is torture, murder, treason, sexual assault, gore, etc. Sometimes, this feels gratuitous, but most often it feels discreet and appropriate to the story.

If you're reading fantasy for D&D ideas (monsters, spells, places, plots, etc.), this book has a decent amount - usually of the Lovecraftian type. The setting is decent if somewhat generic (except for the sorceress and her minions), at least in this book.

The book is well written, action-packed, and certainly a page turner (I couldn't stop reading) - even more than some of the previous books I reviewed. Still, the pacing never feels too rushed. Some characters could benefit from more depth, but then again they might soon be dead anyway. 

I'm certainly glad I picked this one, but I'm unsure if I'll read other books in the series. I find endless darkness and invincible protagonists can become somewhat tiresome if taken to the extremes, and the plot of the other books seem too similar to this one. I'll probably give it a try anyway - maybe read some of his short stories.

Overall, this is above average for Appendix N and fantasy. I might place it somewhere between the decent Black Company and the awesome The Broken Sword

I definitely recommend giving it a try.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

AD&D DMG cover to cover - part V, pages 47-60 (THE ADVENTURE)

We´ve been reading the original DMG - the ultimate DM book! - but from a B/X and OSR point-of-view.

Check the other parts of this series here.

Today we discuss:

— Underwater Spell Use 57

As you can see, this section is about two vaguely related topics: traveling to different places that are not cities or dungeons (through earth, air, water, and different planes of existence) and noticing things (noises, light, darkness, good and evil, invisible).

It is necessary to have a reasonably well-detailed, large scale map for conducting
adventures outdoors. Naturally, the initial adventuring in the campaign will be
those in the small community and nearby underground maze. For whatever
reason — player desire, quest or geas, or because of your own direction —
adventuring will sooner or later move to the outdoors.

So we get some good advice right away:  start  your campaign with a small village and a nearby dungeon. The proceed to the larger setting (your own or something published). The setting should be divided in hexes and smaller subhexes (I prefer pointcrawls nowadays, butt here is a reason for hexes here, as we'll see).


Here the author describes chances and frequencies of encounters (according to terrain and population density) with detail. This is useful, it somewhat crunchy - especially considering the author suggested we occasionally ignore random encounters.

Encounter Distance is also described with interesting detail - distances are smaller if one size is surprised. The rules on confrontation clarify some questions I had with B/X:

Confrontation indicates that the adventurers and some
monster have met at close proximity, and some interaction is likely to take
place. There are, however, modifying circumstances:
1) If the monsters are intelligent and would normally deem themselves to be
weaker than the party of adventurers, then they will always seek to avoid
such confrontation.
2) If the party of adventurers surprises the monsters and elects to flee the
encounter, they may attempt to avoid confrontation by using free segments
of action to move out of confrontation distance and evade the monsters.

Movement for parties of more than 100 creatures are detailed here.

Then we have rules for becoming lost. They only apply with a lot of caveats: "Any party not guided by a creature knowledgeable of the countryside through which the party is moving, or which is not following a well defined course (river, road, or the like), or which is not using a well-drawn and correct map, might become lost.". IF they apply, they are incredibly harsh: in a forest or marsh, there is a decent chance you'll simply starting walking backwards, 180º degrees.

"Procedures are only for exploration of unmapped terrain." This is why we use hexes rather than pointcrawls (also because they did not exist by this name at the time).

Forced movement is possible, but requires rest to avoid exhaustion (i.e., temporary loss of levels) and sudden death. These rules are comparatively simple and elegant (I'd prefer  Constitution loss, but this  has the advantage of hindering spellcasters equally).


This section includes flying brooms,  carpets, and creatures. Training a  flying mount  requires money and time.


Another incredibly detailed section about something I'm very unlikely to use, including a whole page on how different creatures fight when flying and hex-maps of flying maneuvers ("A running record of absolute (or relative) altitude should be kept, either on a separate sheet or on a small piece of paper under each figure or counter"). 

If I had to pick some rule from here, I like the idea  that winged creatures cannot fly at less than half HP since their wings are probably hurt. 

Other than that, I'll just skip it.


This section details virus types of  boats, ships, galleys, etc. A nautical campaign is much more likely for me than an aerial one, so this definitely looks interesting. It has rules on navigation, combat, damaging ships, swimming in armor, naval terminology, and so on.  Lots to learn in here even if you don't include it in your games!


Traveling underwater the water is even rarer than travelling on air.  This section has rules for breathing,  fighting,  moving,  seeing, and casting spells underwater. I'll just skip it again, since I don't think I'll ever use it. I do enjoy the facts  that these rare  circumstances are described here rather than in combat or spell sections, so you can just ignore them if you want.

TRAVEL IN THE KNOWN PLANES OF EXISTENCE contains some vague ideas about the planes, further detailed in the PHB.

OUTDOOR MOVEMENT details travelling speed on foot, mounts, boats, etc.  Pretty straightforward.

INFRAVISION & ULTRAVISION details and somewhat limits these special senses, making infravision somewhat less powerful than simply seeing in the dark. "Light sources which give off heat also absolutely prevent normal infravision from functioning within their sphere of illumination".

INVISIBILITY, similarly, nerfs invisibility powers. "Monsters might well be able to hear, smell, or see the invisible character.". This is funny and sensible: "Now consider a silence spell and large area invisibility cast upon a party. Imagine the chaos within the area as characters stub their toes on the heels of the person before them, with the inability to hear anything so that falls, suggestions as to what should be done, or orders cannot be heard. Consider also that dust on the floor will betray most invisibility, as will dust or powder in the air.". In addition, creatures of sufficient HD and intelligence have a probability of detecting invisibility through keen hearing/smell etc. I'm conflicted about this rule; could be fun, but why not allow dogs and cats to have a chance?

MIRRORS - "It is important for DMs to remember that in order to be reflective, a mirror must
have a light source." This is the entirety of the entry.

DETECTION OF EVIL AND/OR GOOD has detailed rules about detecting evil/good that should be included under the appropriate spells or power - or at least under alignment.

LISTENING AT DOORS has rules on exactly that... including details on races and even the chances of a character finding out to be "keen eared" the first time he tries it! Should be a part of character creation and is included here for no particular reason. The DMG is like that, full of fun little ideas that come from out of nowhere, as if the author was making it up as he goes.

When compared to B/X, AD&D gives 10%-15% chances of hearing rather than 16%-33% for most PCs. It also explicitly allows three PCs to try at once, and three attempts to be made, so the odds are in the PC's favor. It is a simple system and not particularly clever IMO (I might give a bonus proportional to the time being spent, maybe). However, I'm fond of the idea of using a d20 here (while many B/X fans prefer 1-in-6), and "three attempts" soudns good enough to me too.

What have we learned today?
There is  not much here for my B/X games, except some clarifications and rulings on how to nerf certain powers. The part on encounter distance is useful. This is not a particular inspiring entry to the series... But what we've got next will certainly be fun!

Additional reading (on encounters)

Coming next... COMBAT!

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Monday, July 10, 2023

Target 30

I must have proposed a dozen different systems for D&D skill/tasks already. 

B/X, one of the simplest forms of D&D available, has at least three or four - often for the same kind of test (e.g., hiding or climbing), sometimes even for the same character (e.g., the Halfling). Finding the perfect method is elusive, since each has its pros and cons. Usually, I favor methods that:

- Take levels AND ability scores into account.
- Use "roll high", with a natural 20 being the best result.
- Fit well with other rolls, such as combat, saving throws and thief skills.

My favorite so far is "fractional skills", which I refined to use in Dark Fantasy Basic, and still using in my current campaign. Xd6 roll under is also a favorite because the results match well with thief skills.

But I think there is another option. I have been a fan or Target 20 for a long time, and I have recently tried be67 with my friend Jens, which might have given me this idea:

Roll 1d20 + ability score + level (if appropriate), with a target of 30.

For example, a 4th level thief with Dex 14 rolls 1d20+14+4 to open locks, succeeding if he rolls 12 or more (i.e., 45% of the time). By level 14th, he is succeeding 95% of the time.

This system works especially well for me for a couple of reasons. First, my PCs have ability scores that average about 11 by first level*. Second, they have a few opportunities of raising abilities scores with feats. This brings us closer to an ideal Target 18 - i.e., close to 1-in-6 chances for untrained PCs (as B/X intended), but adjusted to their ability scores. Third, it makes each point matter for ability scores.

* I'm using something slightly more benevolent than "3d6 in order" to begin with (average 10.5 for each ability score). If you're using 4d6 drop lowest, this works even better to create heroic PCs. An average ability score of 12.2 is very close to 1-in-6 chances. And it would work perfectly for Knave too, as the abilities average more than 11.

To smooth things out, there is ALWAYS a chance of success or failure. If you roll a natural 20 and still fail, you can try again with a +10 bonus. Conversely, if you roll a natural 1 and would still succeed (e.g., a level 14 thief with 16 Dexterity), you must roll again with a -10 penalty or fail.

This solution seems decent for climbing, jumping, hiding, tracking, finding, etc. Use 25 for intermediate tasks or "minor tests" (e.g., open doors), 20 for most simple tasks (almost equivalent to "d20 roll under"), 35 for the nearly impossible (e.g. "bend bars" or the thief lesser skills such as hear noise and read languages).

The DC for surviving Resurrection/System shock is 15. Very close to AD&D.

The DC to understand spells is 20. Close to AD&D again.

I'm not sure I would use this for spellcasting and combat, however; the difference from B/X would be too great. Which is a downside compared to Dark Fantasy Basic, that uses a single system for everything.

Curiously, I think something similar to this could work well even for 5e D&D. Add 10 to the usual DCs (use 22 to 24 as default), reduce the proficiency bonus (maybe 1/4 level, apply to all saves and skills, half level+2 if you have expertise). If you are not familiar with 5e, this would require a longer explanation, which I'll avoid here since I'm not playing 5e anymore. But it could easily be the basis for a minimalist version of 5e.

Well, I like it. Maybe I should use it if I write something AD&Dish in the future...