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 29, 2023

Minimalist encumbrance/slots (B/X)

Encumbrance must be one of the most popular subjects in OSR circles. I've written at least half a dozens posts myself, and I hope I'm not repeating myself too much, although this is a simplification of an earlier post.

Anyway, here is what I've been using lately. Works well for B/X, OSE, BFRPG, etc. I haven't read the OSE rules for slots, but I imagine they are similar.

A PC can carry a number of "slots" equal to STR.

[Alternative: If you want all PCs to have similar capacity, start with 10+STR mod, or use 10 and ignore STR].

One "slot" is approximately 3-5 pounds (30-50 coins); basically one weapon or item of similar weight.

2H swords, lances and polearms take 3 slots (you might as well use 2; these weapons are not that great in the game, and not that heavy in real life).

Armor/shield take 2 slots per point of AC.

Light items (potions, torches, etc.) are ignored unless you're carrying more than pounds of them. You can bundle 6 torches, 3 days of rations, 3-5 daggers/wands/potions, etc. 

You must use some common sense here, but most things in the equipment list should take one slot (except things with negligible weight like garlic, etc.). In the original game, the weight is closer to 2 slots.

Coins are 50 per slot.

(I use 100 per slot and silver standard because I find it more sensible).

Movement rate (adapted from OSE):
EncumbranceMovement Rate
Up to STR120’ (40’)
Up to STRx290’ (30’)
Up to STRx360’ (20’)
Up to STRx430’ (10’)
This is a bit more lenient than the usual rules. 

If you want something closer to the original, try this:
EncumbranceMovement Rate
Up to STR120’ (40’)
Up to STRx1,590’ (30’)
Up to STRx260’ (20’)
Up to STRx330’ (10’)
And that's it! Easy, right?

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

AD&D DMG cover to cover - part VIII, pages 100-114 (NPCs, CONSTRUCTIONS and CONDUCTING THE GAME)

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 EXPERIENCE and THE CAMPAIGN!

— FACTS 101
— TRAITS 101
— Additional Attack Forms 109
— Demi-Gods And Gods 112
— Sixguns & Sorcery 112
— Mutants & Magic 113


The first section is mostly a collection of random tables for creating your own NPCs, and tips on how to run them. 

The tables are mostly good, not great. They provide much (maybe too much) detail, and not always interesting. The author uses 1d10 in places where 2d6 or 1d100 might work better, but this is a minor issue. 

In short, they became obsolete in face of more interesting and automatized tables (this version seems almost faithful to the original except for lacking alignment, but I think this one is somewhat better. Here is my version, FWIW).

Here is one example from the first link:

Appearance: youthful, unkempt
Sanity: neurotic
Traits: violent, obsessive, kindly, studious
Personality: rash
Bravery: brave
Disposition: haughty
Intellect: ponderous
Interests: collector of fauna

Other curiosities include ability adjustments due to class (which is a sound idea IMO and could be used for PCs) and the fact that every laborer and mercenary is kinda tough. Giving a minimum of 4 HP, +1 STR and +3 CON suggests starting PCs could be a bit stronger.

Details include average age and height, which seems redundant with corresponding PC tables. 

There is also this table appearing out of the blue with no further explanation.

After the tables, we get some DMing advice,  including a distinction between henchmen, hirelings and monsters. 

Overall, it is decent advice with the occasional INSANITY such as "Dealing with all such NPCs should be expensive and irritating." [referring to "merchants, shopkeepers, guardsmen, soldiers, clerics, magic-users, fighters, thieves, assassins, etc."]

After all, we all like expensive and irritating! Right?

Then we have a table for the costs of various spells, which varies immensely (which seems better than just "100 gp per level", if more complex). At least the prices are negotiable.

Attack spells are not shown in order to discourage hiring of spell casters for such purposes. As a general rule, no specially hired spell caster will ever accompany a party on an adventure of any sort, except in circumstances planned and directed by the Dungeon Master.

Fair enough, wizards will not act as mercenaries.

The there is this:

It is also worth mentioning that NPC spell casters are NOT going to take continual interruptions too kindly, even if the party so doing is of the same faith and alignment and pays well. At some point the spell caster will get fed up with it and begin raising rates. (The players should not rely upon those outside their group to keep their members viable. They must learn self-reliance or else pay the price one way or another.)

It seems that NPCs are an anti-social bunch and do not appreciate people of similar alignment that pay them well. How dare they?

MONSTERS AND ORGANIZATION has some advice on roleplaying NPCs and adjusting their actions when the PCs are not around.

The intelligence and wisdom of concerned monsters are principal determinants of their actions and/or reactions. Consider also cunning and instinct. It is also important to remember that lawful indicates an organized and ordered approach [...]

Good stuff, and similar to my own approach, that I might have inherited from here somehow.

A lengthy list of examples comes next, showing you how and when to re-stock dungeons/places depending on the type of monsters that inhabit it. If the PCs come back to a place one week later: skeletons will not have been replaced (unless commanded by an evil cleric or similar), giant ants might have breed and repaired some tunnels, attacked towns might have sought reinforcements, bandits will probably be gone if the PCs are strong, etc.

All things considered, this is sound advice, carefully explained for beginners.

USE OF NON-HUMAN TROOPS basically tells you what happens when you try to command goblins, orcs, trolls, etc. - even at the same time. This is not a thing that happens in my games but sounds useful if you're running a campaign with wargaming aspects (such as Chainmail or Warhammer).


This section describes construction of dungeons and buildings in great detail.

It starts with a table calculating the "CUBIC VOLUME OF ROCK PER 8 HOURS LABOR PER MINER". Curiously, when I played GURPS people would make fun of the system for having rules for digging holes, and this seems even more complex.

The REASONS for building a dungeon in the first place are sorely lacking.

Next, you've got tables for building castles, including doors, towers, arrow slits, etc. Each part is described in detail. It sounds like a fun exercise to build your castle bit by bit, but for me a general table like this with costs would be even better:

Then we get various siege engines like catapults, ballistae, etc. They require a regular attack roll (and do NOT use the table on page 108 to determine “to hit” probabilities, despite what the text says), which might give fighters a chance to shine here. Spellcasters, on the other hand, can use various spells against structures, as described in this section.

Each structure has its own "defensive points". What are these? well, simply not described here. Probably akin to hit points.

I notice we are again in wargaming territory. Different types of doors, for example, do not seem to change the chances of a PC forcing them. Individual AC makes no difference against siege engines.

So, although individual PCs can be target and participate in some ways, the focus here is in bigger battles, armies against armies.

In short, an interesting section that I am not sure I can use.


Finally we get to the DM advice!

This chapter starts with a curious authorization for fudging die rolls - with some parsimony

I'll just paste the entire ROLLING THE DICE AND CONTROL OF THE GAME section here. 

Emphasis mine:

In many situations it is correct and fun to have the players dice such things as melee hits or saving throws. However, it is your right to control the dice at any time and to roll dice for the players. You might wish to do this to keep them from knowing some specific fact. You also might wish to give them an edge in finding a particular clue, e.g. a secret door that leads to a complex of monsters and treasures that will be especially entertaining. You do have every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur. In making such a decision you should never seriously harm the party or a non-player character with your actions. “ALWAYS GIVE A
Examples of dice rolls which should always be made secretly are: listening, hiding in shadows, detecting traps, moving silently, finding secret doors, monster saving throws, and attacks made upon the party without their possible knowledge.
There will be times in which the rules do not cover a specific action that a player will attempt. In such situations, instead of being forced to make a decision, take the option to allow the dice to control the situation. This can be done by assigning a reasonable probability to an event and then letting the player dice to see if he or she can make that percentage. You can weigh the dice in any way so as to give the advantage to either the player or the nonplayer character, whichever seems more correct and logical to you while being fair to both sides.
Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may! Again, if you have available ample means of raising characters from the dead, even death is not too severe; remember, however, the constitution-based limit to resurrections. Yet one die roll that you should NEVER tamper with is the SYSTEM SHOCK ROLL to be raised from the dead. If a character fails that roll, which he or she should make him or herself, he or she is FOREVER DEAD. There MUST be some final death or immortality will take over and again the game will become boring because the player characters will have 9+ lives each!
I got to admit I was a bit surprised to read this (although another part already recommended a similar thing regarding encounters). 

The DM stops being an impartial referee and becomes someone who can occasionally protect good players from bad die rolls. A PC who should be dead can be simply knocked unconscious!

Suffice to say, I do not like fudging in general, and I think things like death, losing an eye etc. should be part of the rules and not DM's fiat. 

But I'll admit fudging is quite popular nowadays, especially in the modern/5e crowd, and deserves a lengthy post of its own.

(Another curiosity you might have noticed is that players are not necessarily assumed to roll their own attacks - notice that matrices are included in the DMG and not the PHB - although I'd bet players both knew and rolled their attacks most of the times).

HANDLING TROUBLESOME PLAYERS has advice on this topic, ranging from common sense ("ask them to leave") to “blue bolts from the heavens” striking the offender’s head (the PC's head, I'd assume).

INTEGRATION OF EXPERIENCED OR NEW PLAYERS INTO AN EXISTING CAMPAIGN has decent advice on the topic, but again it boils down to common sense (PCs should not be too weak nor too strong, check magic items, etc.).

Experienced players without existing characters should generally be brought into the campaign at a level roughly equal to the average of that of the other player characters.

So, you do not necessarily start on level 1. From context, it feels like the first few levels are training wheels of sorts (as also indicated by Gygax house rules).

I'd agree with that. First level PCs are just too frail (compare them to 0-level mercenaries, for example). Starting at level 3-4 allows you to have an heroic campaign from the beginning while still being threatened by a dozen mercenaries.


Each must have its own personalities, goals, etc., and not serve as mere paws for the player.

In campaigns where there are only a few players, or where only a few of the many players are really good players, it is likely that each (good) player will have several characters.

In short, several PCs are EXPECTED; if there are few players, each should control multiple PCs.

INTERVENTION BY DEITIES is rare but possible in the direst of circumstances:

If the character beseeching help has been exemplary in faithfulness, then allow a straight 10% chance that some creature will be sent to his or her aid if this is the first time the character has asked for help. If 00 is rolled, there is a percentage chance equal to the character’s level of experience that the deity itself will come [...] 

Good enough for me. Reminds me of Elric, of course.

THE ONGOING CAMPAIGN deals with metaplot; i.e., campaigns are not entirely random or picaresque.
Furthermore, there must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in expertise, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement.
This is interesting advice and something that I like using in my own campaigns. The PCs do not see the entire forest for the trees at first, but it becomes obvious as they go, possibly culminating in a final battle.

Again, it is curious to see such advice in the DMG, as these "story arcs" are usually a mark of modern play.

Occasional humor, silliness and side-quests are recommended to give some spice and levity to this epic struggle.

This section ends with conversion notes and ideas for BOOT HILL (western) and GAMMA WORLD  (sci-fi) games.

The book discuss not only the mechanics but also gates between worlds, the usefulness of spells and artifacts in different settings, and mixing genres.

What have we learned today?
While there is not much here I can use in my B/X games, it was a very interesting read from an historical perspective. 

The long section about conducting the game was a surprise to me, as it goes counter to most OSR advice I've read. Same for the "epic struggle" that should emerge after a long campaign.

Multiple PCs per player is an idea I like, but still didn't manage to convince my players.

And mixing genres is something I certainly enjoy, despite never having played Booth Hill (or Gamma World, except maybe for one or two sessions decades ago).


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

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Minimalist "Weapon versus Armor" table

I've been talking about the weapons versus armor table for a while. And brainstorming about weapons and armor in the last few days. 

Here are a few random thoughts to add...

In the end, I think using speed factor might be enough to distinguish weapons.

But I'm still wondering... could we have an easy weapon x armor table?

The one in AD&D is too much for me to handle, but the one in 2e is almost manageable:

Remember this applies to THAC0, so a bonus benefits the person being hit.

What do we have here?

Slashing weapons are the worst of the bunch, giving the defender an average bonus of +1/+2.

Piercing weapons are a bit better, with an average 0/+1 bonus.

Bludgeon weapons are the best - rarely giving the defender a bonus.

Which is fair enough, as slashing weapons such as swords deal the most damage (1d8 for one-handed swords and 1d6 for spear/maces, usually).

Notice that simply giving slash/pierce/bludgeon a -2/-1/0 to hit against ANY armor would not be a problem in B/X. 

A 1st level PC could STILL hit someone in plate with a sword with a natural 20, thus finally making the mace a better choice against armor (and making plate even more impressive!).

Turning it into a small bonus (0/+1/+2) would have a similar, if less dramatic, effect.

[We could even apply the bonus ONLY if you roll 10 or more, so maces gain little when fighting unarmored foes].

In short... we don't even need a weapon versus armor table!

But I like them, so let's continue a little bit.

Here is my first simplification, using ascending AC and attack bonuses:

This means a sword gets a -2 penalty against plate etc.

The mace gets better. 

The spear is good too; it has other uses after all (charging, throwing, etc.).

There are other weapons that deserve attention here.

In B/X, axes are not great to begin with, so nerfing them as "slashing" would not be a good idea.

Instead, we could say certain weapons do more than one type of damage, and let the attacker choose.

For example, battleaxes slash AND bludgeon, while picks bludgeon AND pierce, and polearms can choose two or three damage types, as suggested here.

Or we could add more columns, for example:

The axe is halfway between sword and mace. 

The pick is a specialized anti-armor weapon (maybe you can buy bodkin arrows with the same effect).

Notice that even the -2 for swords does NOT make it a bad weapon if you are a skilled fighter, as the d8 damage more than makes up for it. But it gives people better reasons to use other weapons.

Simple and easy... but might require rebalancing all existing weapons.

In short... doable, but I'm not sure it is worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Critical hit checklist

Continued from here.

As you can see, I'm a bit obsessed with critical hits.

What if, instead of a random table, we had a checklist of circumstances to modify your damage on a critical hit?

Add that to a small formula, some randomness, and, again, we can have an incredibly detailed system without wasting time or brainpower.

What's best, we can get the "critical hits" we see in the Conan stories or the death of Smaug.

Remember, this is the occasional slow motion close up you see in movie battles. This is NOT something you check often!

This system assumes ascending AC.

It takes place when you roll a natural 20.

First, deal maximum damage to you foe. 

If your foe is still alive, go to phase A. 

If your foe is dead but you have another foe within reach, go to phase B.

Otherwise, maximum damage is all you get.

Phase A (brutal hit)

A) Roll 1d10, and add it to your original roll.
B) Subtract your foe's AAC.
C) Add your Speed Factor.

If the result is less than 20, go to phase B. Otherwise:

20+: max damage x2.
30+: max damage x3.
40+: max damage x4.
Optional: natural 10 on the d10: roll again with a +10 bonus "ad infinitum".

[Optional] If your foe is STILL alive, the DM can decide, on a scale of 1-10, how adequate your weapon is to kill your foe with one blow, give the opponent's armor, size and composition, and add it to the table above.

This is very subjective, of course.

E.g.: a dagger is a terrible weapon against a skeleton, someone wearing armor, or a giant enemy (maybe 1 or 2), but deadly against unarmored opponents (9 or 10) while a two-handed mace is good against all kinds of armor (maybe 7 regardless of armor). A warpick is made specifically to defeat armor - so maybe give it a 10 against chain or plate, but only 6 against unarmored foes, and even less against big soft enemies such as a gelatinous cube.

Phase B (quick hit)

Roll a d10 (or use your roll from phase A if you've been there) and compared it to your SF.

If your roll is equal or greater than your SF, you can attack the same foe or another foe within reach. 


Some examples 

A) Abelard rolls a natural 20 while fighting an ogre (19 HP, AC 14). His attack bonus is +3.

His sword normally deals a maximum of 9 damage (1d8+1), not enough to kill the ogre.

In phase A, he roll 1d10 and gets a 6, resulting in:

A) 23+6 = 29
B) 29-14 [AC] = 15
C) 15+5 [SF] = 20

This means double damage - 18 points - still not enough!

The DM could assign a 1-10 rating to his weapon, but in this only a 10 would make a difference and the DM decides his sword is not quite perfect to kill an ogre with one blow (maybe a two-handed sword would).

Still, in phase B, he gets another shot at the ogre due to his sword's speed factor.

B) Boris, the thief backstabs another ogre with a dagger!

His attack bonus is +2, but he gets +4 and double damage for the sneak attack (2d4, a maximum of 8).

In phase A, he rolls a 4, getting:

A) 26+4 = 30
B) 30-14 [AC] = 16
C) 16+2 [SF] = 18

Oh no! "Only" maximum damage.

But the GM decides that the dagger is ideal for backstabbing, even though far from ideal to kill an ogre with a single hit! Still, a rating of 2 is enough to double damage to 16, which almost does it.

And since the dagger is a very fast weapon, he still gets another attack in phase B!

C) Carolus the Cleric is fighting a knight in plate armor (AC 17, 13 HP) and rolls a natural 20.

His attack bonus is only +2 and he rolls a 3.

The total in phase A is 22+2-17+7 = 14.

Only maximum damage. 

Fortunately, the mace is a great weapon against plate, so the DM adds 7 to the result - double damage!

Unfortunately, the one-handed mace deals only 6 maximum damage, so the total of 12 is not enough to kill the knight.

And since the mace's SF is 7, Carolus does not get an extra attack.

Still - the knight has 1 HP. 

Will he run, or try his luck with his 1d8 sword against Carolus' chain armor?

D) Can we kill Smaug with that? Let's say, AC 20, 45 HP.

Not easy.

Assuming a level 10 warrior (+7 to hit).

Consider the magic arrow plus exceptional strength (and any archery specializations etc.) to give the archer a +6 bonus to attack and damage (maximum damage 12). 

Still not enough.

Unless the dragon has a soft spot with lower AC [12?]... and you're using the PERFECT arrow, made to kill this specific dragon (+10).

Now we'd have 20+7+6+10-12=31, plus 1d10.

The chances of quadruple damage is about 20%. 

But the chances of getting a nat 10 in the first place is only 5%...

So, about 1% chance.

Eh, not bad.

What about the NPCs?

Same deal.

But if you want to simplify things, just max damage and an extra attack is good and balanced enough.


As you can see, all crits are devastating or nearly so - especially if your armor isn't great.

And the optional 1-10 bonus requires some adjudicating.

This is probably too much for B/X, unless you want a really gritty game. 

You could reduce the numbers to your liking - for example, ignoring the optional bonus to make things simpler, or reduce the range to -5/+5 (defaulting to 0).

Come to think of it, ignoring it might be better. The SF is enough to make up for it, barring specific circumstances.

Anyway, in Dark Fantasy Basic, PCs are a bit tougher than average (ogres too - I use 4d10+1 HD for them, so about 23HP) and my campaign is around level 5 now.

Guess I'll give it a try!

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Detailed combat rules... in one single table

I've been trying to create a detailed AND easy combat system for my Dark Fantasy Basic games for a while now.

When compared to B/X, for example, a gritty/detailed combat system should contain:

- Critical hits.
- Weapon versus armor differences.
- Weapon speed.
- Differences between slashing, cutting, piercing.
- Differences between swinging and stabbing with a weapon.
- Unarmed combat.
- Natural weapons.
- Two-weapon fighting.
- Chances of "one hit kills" like the ones you see in Conan (or Smaug in "The Hobbit").
- Combat maneuvers.
- Etc.

AD&D has lots of rules on these topics, for example - but they are incredibly complicated.

Well, it makes sense - this is a lot to cover.

But what if we could add ALL these rules in one single table?

This is not impossible - I remember playing Rolemaster and dealing with tables (with wonky results) constantly.

But this is not what I want either. 

I'd like these things to fade gently into the background, only coming up occasionally, to remind players of the blood, sweat and tears involved in combat.

This is the occasional slow motion close up you see in movie battles. 

So, the table only activates on a natural 20.

I'm using speed factor to, well... speed things up, but maybe we could do a table without using that.

This replaces the damage roll in most cases - you always use maximum damage for a natural 20. 

If maximum damage is enough to kill your foe, you do not need to use the table; this is all you get for now.

Otherwise, roll 1d100.

Here is my first attempt.

Notice it uses ascending AC and an attack bonus (AB) rather than THAC0 etc.

1-10. Maximum damage only.
11-20. +1 damage.
21-30. +2 damage.
31-40. Roll another attack against the same foe adding your speed factor (this is one single attack, not requiring a new arrow etc.).
41-50. Roll another attack against the same foe subtracting your speed factor (this is a second attack, requiring a new arrow etc.).
51-60. Double damage if using a slashing weapon against an opponent of flesh and blood, or a piercing weapon against an opponent with functioning internal organs, or a crushing weapon against an opponent with bones or made of hard/brittle material.
61-70. Bonus damage equal to your margin of success (i.e., 20+AB-AC), +2 for crushing weapons. If your margin is 10 or more, add +4 for slashing weapons and +6 for piercing weapons. 
71-80. +1 damage for each pound your weapon weights, to a maximum of 5 with one hand, 10 with two hands.
81-90. Make another attack against the same foe or another foe within reach.
91-94. Roll twice and pick the best result, ignoring this result.
95-96. Max damage x2.
97-98. Max damage x3, roll again and add the results.
99. Max damage x3.
00. Max damage x3, roll again and add the results.

Notice I didn't include dismemberment, automatic kills, etc., because I think these should be checked at 0 HP, not every natural 20.

So, while a goblin with a 1d4 rusty knife COULD potentially kill your 22 HP fighter in plate armor, it is unlikely that he would do the same to a dragon (although, TBH, even one chance in a thousand might be too much in this case).

But this is a question of quantity, not quality.

The point here is that it is possible to have a very detailed system without time-consuming, complex rules.

A different take on this would be including a checklist instead of a random table; this is what I plan to try next.

Friday, September 15, 2023

A few thoughts on Castles & Crusades

Castles & Crusades is one of the first "neoclones" available. 

It also contains one of my favorite combinations: B/X plus AD&D, enhanced by modern mechanics - but mostly feels like a simplified/streamlined AD&D

For example:

- Streamlined, 3d6 ability scores like B/X.
- Stronger fighters and lots of classes like AD&D.
- Race separated from class like most non-Basic versions.
- Saves are based on ability scores like 5e (but predates 5e by 10 years!).

And, overall, it is full of great ideas.

I bought the PHB and M&T a while ago (I have the 7th printing, which is not the current one), and recently gave it a brief read, but haven't played it. 

So this isn't a proper review - just some personal observations.

The basic mechanic for tasks and skills is basically "Target 18": d20 + level* + ability modifier, success on 18 or more.

(*Usually level is added only to class abilities, but this isn't exactly clear and it involves some DM fiat - e.g., a fighter adds his level to break down a door but the book recommends not even letting him attempt to pick a lock).

For two of your abilities ("prime abilities"), the target is 12 instead (three if you're human). This huge difference distinguishes PCs from the very beginning.

It is a decent idea, but creates a small hurdle in grasping the game, at least for me: a PC with "prime" Str 16 is a LOT stronger than a PC with Str 18 but not prime when making a check (or carrying stuff), but not when calculating weapon attacks, damage, etc. Constitution, on the other hand, ONLY affects encumbrance if chosen as a prime - regardless of the score!

I'd rather give a bonus to two or three abilities and remove this "extra step" - although this is still simpler than 5e's "proficiency bonus".

Come to think of it, this game seems to have influenced 5e somehow. There are several small similarities, and we know the OSR in general was an inspiration to 5e.

(TBH, I noticed some influence in  my own game, despite not having played this before - maybe it was indirect of forgotten).

The list of classes in this game is great - thirteen classes, and only four rely primarily on spells (BTW, it seems bards, paladins and rangers do not have spells). 

You got the usual suspects plus the knight with some warlord-esque abilities. 


It almost manages to lower the reliance on spells, but unfortunately the spell-casting classes have LOTS of spells, cantrips, etc. The magic chapter is, by itself, about half the PHB.

Multi-classing is an optional rule (well, the ONLY optional rule in my version of the PHB) and it is treated in a sensible way.

Other than that, however, characters have little customization as they level up; it repeats the classic D&D tendency of having a big choice (class) on level 1 and no choice in other levels, unless you're a spellcaster.

So, no feats here - but some of mine might be compatible. 

It wouldn't be hard to swap features or skills to create an unmounted leader, for example, but it requires some effort.

Combat is also very good and straightforward, with rules for grappling, unarmed combat, surprise, etc. - all much simpler than AD&D.

The same can be said for the rest of the book - it has several good innovations, some unneeded AD&Disms (such as the wonky progression past level 10), ascending armor class, no critical hits... in short, very much in line with AD&D, with little conversion needed.

Unfortunately, it lacks morale and reaction rolls, which are particularly important in mot OS/OSR games, and should at least be addressed. Maybe their "DMG" has something on the subject.

Also, it is relatively easy to add them to the game if you want.

Finally, a small note on Monsters&Treasure

Again, is basically what you'd expect from an AD&D clone - BUT the statblocks have been elegantly reduced to the essentials:

I really like this format - it is leaner than AD&D and also simpler than modern D&D. Saves have been vastly simplified into mental and physical (something I considered even for PCs).

And the attack bonus is just the same as HD. Great!

In short...

From a first read, this looks like a great game

If you've been reading the AD&D DMG with us and wish there was a simplified version (especially for the combat rules!), C&C is a good start.

If this game had a free online SRD, I bet it would be one of the most popular OSR games out there.

EDIT: just found out you can get the game for free! Here and here!

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Three-Body Problem trilogy (review)

I just finished reading the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy (AKA The Three-Body Problem trilogy; or TBP for short).

I'll write my impressions of the series without major spoilers

Which is difficult (and will seem kinda vague), but I think if you're going to read this one, it is better to find out as you go, as the first novel contains a mystery that will only be revealed halfway.

Also, there are some adaptations out there, and another one coming in 2024 - let's hope they're good.

Anyway, here is a small summary from Wikipedia:

Ye Wenjie is an astrophysicist who saw her father brutally murdered during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Later, she was conscripted by the military because of her scientific background and sent to a secret radar base in a remote region of China. Her fateful decision in the 1960s echoes across space and time to a group of scientists in the present day, forcing them to face humanity's greatest threat.

First things first: the trilogy is well worth the read, maintains a similarly decent quality throughout the three entries, and has a definitive and satisfactory (if not perfect) ending.

It contains aliens, spaceships, cryogenics, flying cars, lasers, anti-matter weapons... all the things you'd expect from a sci-fi epic (except, maybe, much transhumanism and AI).

TBP is both "hard" sci-fi, discussing physics and engineering extensively, with aspects of "soft" sci-fi, analyzing the political, sociological and psychological consequences of many catastrophic events on humanity.

Although the attention to detail and accuracy is noteworthy, the technology becomes more extreme and speculative as the novels progress (and the feeling of "deus ex machina" gets stronger as we go on) - to the point of being "indistinguishable from magic" to my eyes, especially in the third book (it might be different if you have any knowledge of theoretical physics; I wouldn't know).

More than anything, it is a epic tale spanning dozens of characters in multiple galaxies across millions for years, maybe more - from ancient China and Constantinople to the Cultural revolution and aeons of space exploration.

It reminds me of the Foundation series in this regard.

But TBP trilogy manages to be a lot scarier, dealing with war, genocide and mass extinction on a regular basis. The third book gave me existential anxiety as few books have before. Everything feels always at the brink of destruction.

The writing is slow at times - I often skipped technical details and lengthy description of places - but I never felt exactly bored (maybe anxious). There was just certain parts that felt unnecessary to the story.

The characters are well-written if occasionally a bit shallow, although this is not the focus of the books for the most part. I like the fact that here are few clear "villains", and even the protagonists manage to fail spectacularly at times.

TBP is full of big ideas - it discusses many difficulty questions but provides no easy answers.

All things considered, it is a page-turner - and I read the last book over a weekend because I was curious to finally get to the conclusion.

If you like epic, hard sci-fi, this one is worth checking out.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Minimalist monk (B/X) - take 2

I've tried writing a minimalist monk a while ago... but maybe it wasn't minimalist enough. I was still too close to AD&D. Let's try something even simpler (and closer to B/X and Old School Feats' "monk package").

Minimalist Monk (v 2.0)

Requirements: Minimum WIS 9.
Prime requisite: DEX.

XP, HP, saves: as fighter.
Attacks, weapons, armor: as thief.

Special features:

Pick one on level 1, and one more on every third level (3, 6, 9, 12).

Martial artist. You deal 1d4 damage with bare hands/feet, which is increased to 1d6, 1d8, 1d10 and 1d12 on levels 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12. When attacking with weapons, you can choose to use this damage or simply add +2 to weapon damage.

Unarmed offense. You can make an additional attack per round, but it must be an unarmed attack (punch, kick, etc.)

Unarmored defense. When unarmored, you get a bonus to AC equal to half your level (round up).

Mobile. During encounters, your movement rate is half you base movement instead of one third (e.g., 120’ [40’] becomes 120’ [60´]).

Acrobatics. You take half the usual damage when you fall. You get a +4 bonus to AC during retreat and withdrawal. You get a +4 bonus to  ability checks and saves involving jumping, tumbling, etc.

Pure body. You are immune to disease and poison.

Resilience. You get +1 to all saves. You can pick this feature twice.

Regeneration. Once per day, recover an amount of HP equal to your level.

Thievery. You can use thief skills as a thief half your level. You can pick this feature twice to be as skilled as a thief of your level.


Monks cannot own more than they can carry, nor can they use more than 3 magic items at the same time.



The classic monk has more features - and is significantly more powerful, requiring more XP etc.

This one is about as powerful as a regular fighter (who gets to play with more weapons, armor, shields,. etc.).

I like this "pick a feature" approach to customize characters easily. If you like this customization without complication approach, try Old School Feats

Friday, September 08, 2023

Minimalist monk (B/X)

Here is my B/X version of the monk, vaguely inspired by AD&D and the RC, also using a few ideas from Old School Feats (that contains a Monk "package"). The goal is to make it balanced and simple, rather than sticking closely to the original, similarly to my minimalist warlord and white mage.

Minimalist Monk

Requirements: None 
Prime requisite: DEX

XP, HP, saves: as fighter.
Attacks, weapons, armor: as thief.
Skills (climb, traps, locks, hearing, stealth, but NOT pick pockets): as thief.

Special features:

Pick one on level 1, and one more on every even level.

Martial artist. You deal 1d3 damage with bare hands/feet, which is increased to 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10 and 1d12 on levels 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12. When attacking with weapons, you can choose to use this damage or simply add +2 to weapon damage.

Unarmed offense. You can make an extra attack per round, but it must be an unarmed attack (punch, kick, etc.)

Unarmored defense. You get a bonus to AC equal to half your level (round up), to a maximum of +6 if unarmored, +3 if wearing armor.

Mobile. During encounters, your movement rate is half you base movement instead of one third (e.g., 120’ [40’] becomes 120’ [60´]).

Acrobatics. You take half the usual damage when you fall. You get a +4 bonus to AC during retreat and withdrawal. You get a +4 bonus to  ability checks and saves involving jumping, tumbling, etc.

Pure body. You are immune to disease and poison.

Pure mind. You are immune from mind-controlling magic, including sleep, charm, geas, etc.

Pure soul. You get a +4 bonus to saving throws against all spells.

Regeneration. Once per day, recover an amount of HP equal to your level.



The monk, in all its versions, has lots of small powers and fiddly bits. This is probably the simplest version can come up with while still maintaining the same feel. I prefer the "pick a feature" version than giving each feature a predetermined level as it allows for more customization while keeping things very simple.

Is this monk better than the fighter? I think the armor and THAC0 limitations are enough to balance them. What about the thief? The thief is a weak class with an easy XP progression, which the monk doesn't have; the monk cannot backstab either (although I'd let them take is as a feature).

If you think the monk is too powerful, I suggest using the magic-use XP progression, but no more - the monk still feels a bit weaker than a paladin.

I didn't include any taboos for the monk, but I think they would make sense. I'd let each monk pick a taboo according to their own vows (again, customization without complication): truthfulness, refusing healing potions and magic, cannot carry more than three magic items, etc.

Anyway, if you like this customization without complication approach, try Old School Feats

It contains most of these features, and many notes on balance, taboos, and so on.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

AD&D DMG cover to cover - part VII, pages 84-100 (EXPERIENCE and THE CAMPAIGN)

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 EXPERIENCE and THE CAMPAIGN!

— Government Forms 89
— Royal And Noble Titles 89


A small section that still manages to be overly complicated. I remember people saying how easy "1 GP = 1 XP" was. Well, that is not even half the story. 

The system is byzantine and impossible to memorize, but it starts by suggesting some DM fiat: "The judgment factor is inescapable with respect to weighting experience for the points gained from slaying monsters and/or gaining treasure. You must weigh the level of challenge — be it thinking or fighting — versus the level of experience of the player character(s) who gained it."

XP for killing monsters comes BEFORE XP for treasure, and follows a obscure formula (here is something easier: square the number of HD and multiply by 10, add 50% per special ability - similar to Dark Fantasy Basic).

XP for treasure is not as straightforward as "1 GP = 1 XP" either: it depends on the power of the treasure's "guardian" (i.e., monster) and, again, lots of DM fiat. 

It is unclear if the guardian must be FOUGHT or if, as people often say, AD&D is about AVOIDING fights to get to the treasure (which will still give you SOME XP, but not full XP, as suggested in page 84, last paragraph).

"Treasure must be physically taken out of the dungeon or lair and turned into a transportable medium" - apparently, this requires you to physically carry treasure that is NOT transportable. Sigh.

A note on page 85 explains that this intricate system is made to avoid the "non-game boredom" of giving XP for clerics that pray, thieves that steal, etc. 

HOWEVER, acting according to your class and alignment shortens training time and allows you to level without a tutor.

Because, you see, XP is not enough for leveling: you also need to spend time and gold for TRAINING.

The time necessary to train is 1-4 weeks, according to PC behavior. In practice, just consider the AVERAGE quality of PC behavior (presumably, since the last level up) to get a rating from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). Of course, the text MUST be a lot more complicated than that; see for yourself.

Award experience points normally. When each character is given his or her
total, also give them an alphabetic rating — E, S, F, or P. When a character’s
total experience points indicate eligibility for an advancement in level, use the
alphabetic assessment to assign equal weight to the behavior of the character
during each separate adventure — regardless of how many or how few
experience points were gained in each. The resulting total is then divided by the
number of entries (adventures) to come up with some number from 1 to 4. This
number indicates the number of WEEKS the character must spend in study and/
or training before he or she actually gains the benefits of the new level. Be
certain that all decimals are retained, as each .145 equals a game day.

The cost is 1500 gp per level per week, which means the thief might not have enough gold to get to level 2 even with enough XP and "good behavior" (this can happen to other characters that need to train for multiple weeks).

Training costs become negligible on higher levels, but time is always important, which is nice, as it suggests rotating characters.


A campaign is a collection of adventures.

The section starts on world-building. Starting a campaign is easy enough:
This will typically result in your giving them a brief background, placing them in a settlement, and stating that they should prepare themselves to find and explore the dungeon/ruin they know is nearby. As background you inform them that they are from some nearby place where they were apprentices learning their respective professions, that they met by chance in an inn or tavern and resolved to journey together to seek their fortunes in the dangerous environment, and that, beyond the knowledge common to the area (speech, alignments, races, and the like), they know nothing of the world. 
Placing these new participants in a small settlement means that you need do  only minimal work describing the place and its inhabitants. Likewise, as player characters are inexperienced, a single dungeon or ruins map will suffice to begin play. 
Eventually, as player characters develop and grow powerful, they will explore
and adventure over all of the area of the continent. When such activity
begins, you must then broaden your general map still farther so as to
encompass the whole globe. More still! You must begin to consider seriously
the makeup of your entire multiverse — space, planets and their satellites,
parallel worlds, the dimensions and planes. What is there? why? can
participants in the campaign get there? how? will they? Never fear! By the
time your campaign has grown to such a state of sophistication, you will be
ready to handle the new demands.

Great advice!

You can create your own setting, use an existing one as written, or alter it. 

"Until you are sure of yourself, lean upon the book. Improvisation might be fine later, but until you are completely relaxed as the DM, don’t run the risk of trying to “wing it” unless absolutely necessary.".

I like it - as I think improvisation is often over-rated.

Starting adventures/dungeons should be balanced against the players - not too easy, not too hard. Things get harder as the players and their characters advance in experience.

The testing grounds for novice adventurers must be kept to a difficulty factor which encourages rather than discourages players. If things are too easy, then there is no challenge, and boredom sets in after one or two games. Conversely, impossible difficulty and character deaths cause instant loss of interest.
The general idea is to develop a dungeon of multiple levels, and the deeper adventurers go, the more difficult the challenges become. [...] This same concept applies to areas outdoors as well, with more and terrible monsters occurring more frequently the further one goes away from civilization.

It is no exaggeration to state that the fantasy world builds itself, almost as if the milieu actually takes on a life and reality of its own. [...] the interaction of judge and players shapes the bare bones of the initial creation into something far larger. It becomes fleshed out, and adventuring breathes life into a make-believe world. Similarly, the geography and history you assign to the world will suddenly begin to shape the character of states and peoples. Details of former events will become obvious from mere outlines of the past course of things. Surprisingly, as the personalities of player characters and non-player characters in the milieu are bound to develop and become almost real, the nations and states and events of a well-conceived AD&D world will take on even more of their own direction and life.

This whole section is full of great DM advice!

CLIMATE & ECOLOGY contains some common sense and useful ideas, in the vein of "Gygaxian Naturalism" - dragons are not just archetypal monsters, but part of a food chain, etc.

TYPICAL INHABITANTS describes non-adventurers briefly; nothing interesting here.

SOCIAL CLASS AND RANK explains that these things depend on the setting, giving some examples.

Government Forms describe exactly that: autocracy, bureaucracy, confederacy, democracy, etc. Here is my own twist on the subject.

Royal And Noble Titles, likewise, describe a nobiliary hierarchy, both European (from emperors to knights and archbishops to priors, etc.) and Asian (including Maharajas, Sultans, Caliphs, and Khans).

THE TOWN AND CITY SOCIAL STRUCTURE is a (somewhat more interesting) description of how urban environments are governed.

ECONOMICS tries to explain the absurd prices you find in D&D. "The prices and costs of the game are based on inflationary economy, one where a sudden influx of silver and gold has driven everything well beyond its normal value." Yeah, okay.

The next justification sounds more reasonable: "It is simply more heroic for players to have their characters swaggering around with pouches full of gems and tossing out gold pieces than it is for them to have coppers." 

The reason for prices is the "rule of cool"; it doesn't have to make much sense.

DUTIES, EXCISES, FEES, TARIFFS, TAXES, TITHES, AND TOLLS are created "to take excess monies away from player characters". 

I had noticed this tendency of "give lots of treasure and then take it away" before, but here the author makes it explicit. This happens not only with taxes, but training, expenses, etc.

Which feel redundant and boring to me - why not just give them less treasure? 

Remember the "rule of cool"? in the previous section? Well, when did you see Conan or Elric paying taxes? Or tutors, for that matter - especially after they started adventuring?

A whole page on taxes, but "critical hit tables are too complicated". The DMG is like that sometimes.

MONSTER POPULATIONS AND PLACEMENT insists on the "Gygaxian Naturalism" but allows for a “Disneyland” atmosphere with random disjointed monsters if you want (although this is not recommended for long campaigns).

This section contains good advice too, followed by a few examples. 

Certain pre-done modules might serve in your milieu, and you should consider their inclusion in light of your overall schema. If they fit smoothly into the diagram of your milieu, by all means use them, but always alter them to include the personality of your campaign so the mesh is perfect. Likewise, fit monsters and magic so as to be reasonable within the scope of your milieu and the particular facet of it concerned. Alter creatures freely, remembering balance. Hit dice, armor class, attacks and damage, magical and psionic powers are all mutable; and after players become used to the standard types a few ringers will make them a bit less sure of things. Devising a few creatures unique to your world is also recommended.

PLACEMENT OF MONETARY TREASURE contains some vague, common sense advice on the matter. It also provides another explanation for the (low) value of precious metals: they become harder to carry.

PLACEMENT OF MAGIC ITEMS shows the author explicit regrets on giving away too many magic items, something that I've felt in my own games

On the other hand, “killer-dungeons” are also criticized. Balance must be found!

In any case, "you must NEVER allow random determination to dictate the inclusion of ANY meaningful magic items.".

Interesting stuff, as it suggests a complete revision of previous random tables/rules.

TERRITORY DEVELOPMENT BY PLAYER CHARACTERS deals with high-level PCs establishing strongholds and similar structures, which requires detailed maps and procures. 

This is how "the fantasy world builds itself" by "the interaction of judge and player".

Sounds incredibly fun!

I really like this section, makes me wish I had more high-level games.

PEASANTS, SERFS, AND SLAVES explains that they are always oppressed and periodically cause riots - which "the player character must suppress it as soon as possible". 

Interesting if a bit reductionist.

A SAMPLE DUNGEON describes exactly that. Well, almost - just the first three rooms. This is an excerpt of room number ONE
There are 10 moldy sacks of flour and grain stacked
here. The cloth is easily torn to reveal the contents. If all of them are
opened and searched, there is a 25% probability that the last will have
YELLOW MOLD in it, and handling will automatically cause it to burst
and all within 10’ must save versus poison or die in 1 turn.
So... yeah. Not a great example IMO. No "killer dungeons", remember? Right.

But this section contains icons and wandering monster tables, so a good format at least to help you create your own dungeons.

THE FIRST DUNGEON ADVENTURE describes a reasonably lengthy example of actual play - an expedition into the sample dungeon. It goes through many dungeon procedures that "The Adventure" skipped (well, listening is ALSO there for no apparent reason): doors, traps, hearing, etc., the most important being dungeon movement and the duration of various activities.

This part is particularly interesting:
You may use either of two methods to allow discovery of the mechanism which operates the portal:
1. You may designate probability by a linear curve, typically with a d6. Thus,
a secret door is discovered 1 in 6 by any non-elf, 2 in 6 by elven or halfelven
characters, each character being allowed to roll each turn in
checking a 10’ × 10’ area. This also allows you to have some secret doors
more difficult to discover, the linear curve being a d8 or d10.
2. You may have the discovery of the existence of the secret door enable
player characters to attempt to operate it by actual manipulation, i.e. the
players concerned give instructions as to how they will have their
characters attempt to make it function: “Turn the wall sconce.”, “Slide it
left.”, “Press the small protrusion, and see if it pivots.”, “Pull the chain.”
It is quite acceptable to have a mixture of methods of discovering the operation of secret door.
So both "player skill" and "character skill" are acceptable - or a combination of both, which I like. This is something I addressed here.

The example continues on and it is reasonably useful for someone learning RPGs. It contains some curious rulings of varying quality - the MU tries to stomp on a spider and rolls well enough, but the DM decides the spider attacks first and suffers no damage...

I also noticed that the PCs are exceptionally lucky in their rolls, which shouldn't be assumed.

I like the fact that the DM spells out some chances ("The halfling at the top of the stack has a 1 in 6 chance of slipping and bringing you all down") while hiding other rolls ("Rolling a d6 behind a screen so that the players cannot see the result which would normally indicate if noise were detected or not") and simulating another ("DM: (Rolling a few dice behind the screen several times, knowing that tapping won’t show anything, as the secret door is 10’ above the floor:)".

Overall, a decent example of play.

What have we learned today?
My favorite part here is the campaign-building advice. Sensible, easy, organic stuff. I was pleased to see Gygax reconsidering the amount of magical items available, and both approaches to the "PC skill versus player skill" approach. I am not a fan of the experience rules or the explanations on economy, but I can see that training could have some upsides, like introducing relevant NPCs and downtime events.


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