Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Lair of the Lamb - Summary

Recently, I ran two and a half players through the adventure Lair of the Lamb by Arnold K. We had a damn good time of it – or I did, at least.

This adventure is free-to-download, though Arnold asked that anyone who runs it provide a summary of their experience. This is that summary.

Beware spoilers for the Lair of the Lamb, obviously.

I also made several errors while running this adventure. You may notice them while reading. I don’t think they lessened our enjoyment of the adventure, but they do make our experience with it less true-to-text. I will likely reflect on these errors in a future post. For now, I will try to keep this post descriptive and non-evaluative.

Each player made four characters. Player one created Lyrathil, Arthuit, Legoland, and Lizbeth. Player two made Benny, Thomas, Oswald, and Martha.

Their characters awoke in a dark chamber. All of them were hogtied with ropes except one, who found a knife trapped beneath her. They began cutting their ropes and working their way free when a creature came down the hall, smelling of ammonia. They couldn’t see the creature, but the characters in one bowl felt Oswald’s entrails spill out and heard Oswald scream as he got eaten. The survivors ran towards the light at the end of the hall.

At the end of the hall, they found a lit torch. The characters then carefully travelled east around a pit and north to a fountain, where they found water. The fountain was a dead end, however.

As they exited the fountain, they saw a mud-covered shape moving and crying out in the bottom of the pit. Panicked, they ran east through the Crab Mural and busted down a locked door. Beyond they found a group of sleeping, prune-skinned priests bathing in pools of warm water.

Curious, one of the characters reached out and tried to rouse one of the priests. The priest shouted in alarm. As the priests’ raisin-like bodies jumped from the pools, the characters raced up a set of stairs to the east.

Atop the stairs, the characters came to a pair of heavy doors bound with chains. The priests caught up as the characters tried to pull the doors open. A battle ensued; some characters held the priests off while the others escaped. One of the priests’ spells reduced Lyrathil to dust.

Breathless, the surviving characters slammed the doors shut behind them. On the other side, they found two sallow-skinned humanoids dressed in fine clothes staring at them. They looked undead.

Frightened, Benny bolted down a hallway to the east, but quickly disappeared down a trapdoor with a splashing sound. Thinking quickly, the rest of the characters offered to let the undead eat Benny if the rest of them could go. The characters even offered to help the undead get Benny out of the pit. The undead agreed, as Benny would be even “juicier” after soaking in the pit’s water.

One of the undead left and returned with a rope. While one undead held the trapdoor open, the other undead worked with the characters to lower a rope into the pit where Benny swam. Just as Benny emerged from the hole, the characters pushed one of the undead into the pit. The other shrieked.

We ended the first session there.


We had a third player join us for the second session. Considering that the first two players each had three characters left, we let him roll up three characters. They were dwarf sisters named Dimira, Durthina, and Dundra.

Just as the characters shoved the undead humanoid down the trapdoor, these three dwarf sisters came through the heavy doors to the west.

In the ensuing chaos, the creature killed Dimira. As it ate her corpse, the rest of the party jumped across the pit Benny originally fell in. Safely on the other side of the trap, they continued down the hallway.

They encountered another pit, similar to the first. Thomas and Durthina fell inside, landing in water at the bottom, while the rest of the party jumped across successfully.

Jumping over another pit, the remaining party members found a coffer with a green mushroom atop it. They ignored it and proceeded north. There, they found a 20ft. wide pit with a rope strung across it, spiked into the wall.

One party member successfully climbed across using the rope, but not before a massive crab claw reached from the water and tried to grab them. Not wanting to risk getting grabbed, one party member took the green mushroom from the previous room and threw it into the water. The creature at the bottom swallowed it, then started glowing green and thrashing around violently in some sort of fit. In the ensuing confusion, the rest of the party made it safely across.


Meanwhile, Durthina and Thomas treaded water at the bottom of their pit in the dark. Durthina used her strength to break rusted bars that led to a larger room with a half-dozen statues inside. Durthina could see well enough with her infravision, though Thomas was effectively blind.

Wanting to get out of the water, Thomas climbed atop a statue. Feeling around, he deduced the statue held something like a box. He opened it to investigate, then choked on the poison gas it released.

Using her infravision, Durthina learned that all but one statue held a coffer; the last held a scroll, instead. Most statues held their coffers out or under their arms, but one statue held the coffer behind its back.

Unable to read the scroll in the dark, Durthina opened the coffer behind one statue’s back. Inside, she found a hand mirror, a potion that tasted of saltwater, and a pouch of gold.

Durthina then went west into a room with another statue, but was attacked by something beneath the water. She quickly swam east through the door, where she found a creature splashing in the water as if in a fit.

At this point, the rest of the party heard Durthina’s cries and used a rope to haul her up (the same one the undead creature used to hoist Benny out of the water). She narrowly escaped her subaquatic assailant.

Reunited, the party progressed through the northern door and met some strange, bipedal isopods. By sticking the handle of their almost-exhausted torch into the wall, they also opened a secret door to the west, which revealed a room of glowing blue mushrooms.

Using the glowing blue mushrooms as a light source, the party progressed down the hallway to the east (carefully jumping over the pit they detected in the floor). They came to a room with a table and a plate with a green mushroom growing out of it, like the one they encountered before.

Opening the door to the south, the party found a room with slightly-sinking bricks in the middle. A decapitated head lay in the center of the room. Dundra went forward to investigate, but fell to her death as the floor collapsed beneath her.

With that direction thoroughly eliminated as an option, the party progressed north to a room filled with chewed bones. From here they could see a line of decapitated heads to the north. A string of human hands dangled from a rope above them, barely touching the tops of the heads. The characters’ teeth began to chatter as they got within eyesight of it. A set of stairs led down on the other side of the room.

Using her knife, Martha bravely went forward cut the rope. She swiftly died. The rest of the party then passed safely, however.

There were now three party members left: Arthuit, Legoland, and Durthina.

After making it past the heads and reaching the bottom of the stairs, the party was stymied by a brick wall. They could smell fresh air coming from the other side of a loose brick, however – so they were desperate to get through.

Without a way to destroy the brick wall, the party returned to the bone pile and tried another, boarded-up door. Beyond it, they found a large guillotine. With enough time (and a lot of noise), the party disassembled the guillotine and formed a makeshift battering ram. With it, they tore down the brick wall at the bottom of the steps and found a large room flooded with water.

About 60ft away, they could see a faint light coming around the corner. The party used the potion Durthina found to summon a large boat for themselves (they had poured some of it out on the ground earlier and learned that it summed a magical boat).

However, the boat they summoned was too large to row. They used their makeshift battering ram to inefficiently move themselves through the water, pushing off the various columns in the room.

They smelled ammonia. They saw a large, dark shape beneath the water. Suddenly, some large, horrid creature emerged and took the battering ram from Durthina’s hands. The party now had no paddle. They would soon get eaten.

Desperate, Durthina used her potion to summon a smaller rowboat for the party. The three of them quickly jumped inside and paddled to the light they saw. The creature followed close behind.

They came to a room with daylight breaking through the top. A set of crumbling stairs led to a door overhead, but the stairs were broken 20ft. above the water. The characters began climbing the rough walls, trying to reach the stairs.

Arthuit was successful.

Durthina and Legoland were not.

As Arthuit reached safety at the top of the stairs, he watched as the creature consumed his last two companions. Such is the story of how Arthuit escaped the Lair of the Lamb.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Notes on the Weird that Befell Drigbolton

While scanning through the posts in the Necrotic GnomeDiscord server earlier this week, someone asked for advice on running the Dolmenwood adventure The Weird that Befell Drigbolton.

How fortunate! I happen to be running a pair of players through that adventure, currently. And nothing gets me in the writing mood more than the belief that I might help someone. So I offered to share my notes.

Rather than clog Gavin Norman's lovely Discord server with lengthy back-to-back posts, I will consolidate my thoughts in this post. In the future, I will likely 1. write a summary of my players' escapades and 2. offer a review of the adventure. But for now, I will focus on the preparations I made to run this wonderfully weird adventure.

Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for The Weird that Befell Drigbolton (hereafter abbreviated as TWtBD). Unless you intend to run this adventure as a referee, you should stop reading here.

The beautiful cover of this adventure, drawn by Andrew Walter.


The first thing I would like to share is a map I made of Drigbolton's surroundings. A large part of this adventure involves the players exploring Bolton Moor. Although the adventure's map fits neatly into a single six-mile hex in the north of Dolmenwood (specifically Hex 0702), it does not have a scale.

This lack of a scale makes it difficult to track time as the player characters travel between locations. By making it difficult to track time, this adventure also makes it difficult to know when to use the zany random encounter tables included at the back of the book. As Gygax himself said in the Dungeon Master's Guide, "YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.” And keeping track of time in this adventure is especially important, given how things progress and develop over the course of several days.

To solve this problem, I subdivided the six-mile hex into 1-mile hexes. I shifted a few locations slightly to ensure only one major location sat within each hex.

While running this for my players, I allowed them to move three hexes per hour while on a road, two hexes per hour on open land, and one hex per hour in rough terrain (forests, swamps, and hills). Expressed in terms of time, a road hex takes 20 minutes to travel through, an open hex takes 30 minutes to travel through, and a hex of rough terrain takes an hour to travel through.

The map I created is below.

A map of Drigbolton's surroundings, divided into 1-mile hexes.

Knowing that you might be playing on a virtual table-top (or just don't like my colored-pencil drawing), here is another version I made using Hextml.

A digital, 1-mile hex map of Bolton Moor.


Another area I remapped was the hamlet of Drigbolton itself.

The adventure itemizes each building in Drigbolton, noting the inhabitants of each. This is par for the course. This method of keying villages goes all the way back to T1: The Village of Hommlet.

However, I've always found such keys only marginally useful. One reason is that it doesn't help make a village feel alive; villagers hardly spend all day in their homes. So although the house-by-house key may help me, as a referee, know where each villager lives, that information is really only is relevant at the outset if the villagers all line up at their own doorsteps like the von Trapp family when the PCs pass through.

Secondly, it also does not help me provide a narrative description of the village. A house-by-house key is too granular. Just using this map, if the PCs approach from the north, I would say to them, "You approach the village from the north. You see two houses to the right (J and C), and another house by the well (K). Other paths lead to the left (F and I), right (D), and ahead (the rest of town)."

YAWN. How boring.

When I think of running a town, I tend to think of it like a room in a dungeon: I want to give 1. a general overview in one sentence, 2. one or two relevant details, and 3. two or more interesting things for the players to explore. This map does not help me do that.

So I created the map below.

The reason I like this map is because it "chunks" the information into discrete "zones" that I can provide to the players. It gives them specific places to go - almost like a point-and-click adventure game gives you specific things to click on.

Now, were the players to approach from the north, I could say:

"You arrive at a hamlet of about a dozen wooden cottages gathered along a river. It looks like a sleepy village suddenly come alive; gaudy, colorful flags decorate every building. To your right you see a large, wooden structure - like a hall or barn or something (if after dark, they would hear music there). Straight ahead the path continues past a well, around which you see a cluster of houses."

Now the players have a general idea of the village, as well as two potential directions to head in. They can either check out the barn or proceed to the well. If the village were more "normal," I might describe all its "zones" at once when the players arrive. But Drigbolton in this adventure is far from normal, so I run it more like a dungeon.

I should add that 1. a roster of villagers (independent of where they live) and a brief description of their appearance / personalities is helpful to have. I have not posted that here. And a random encounter table for the village would be cool. I haven't had time to write one myself, but I think it would be a great way to make the village seem alive.


Another piece of advice I would give is to know 1. where the goal(s) of the players is/are and 2. how they might get to that goal. That may seem obvious, but I failed to do that.

Because we are running this adventure as a "one-shot," I asked my players at the beginning of our first session what "prompt" they wanted to start the adventure with (out of those provided at the beginning): salvaging star-metal, finding the Black Book, or uncovering the Arch Mage. They chose to search for star-metal.

That was fine. But after they made their choice, I quickly realized that I did not have a comprehensive list of where all the star metal was. I knew they could find it as part of a random encounter. I remembered reading that there was star metal in several places around Drigbolton, but I couldn't remember specifically where - and the book refused to tell me. The references to star-metal are buried within the dense prose of the adventure and not highlighted or "called out" in any way.

I therefore began our first session rather "in the dark," hoping my players lucked into some star-metal. I was going to discover it just as much as they were 😂

Needless to say: after our first session, I then went through the book and highlighted every reference to star metal I could find.

The other two prompts - finding the Black Book or uncovering the Arch Mage - are more straightforward. They just require the PCs to go to the Laird's house. Any villager in the hamlet can point them in that direction. However, I don't want someone else to repeat the same mistake that I made.

So, for your ease of reference, the player characters can find star metal:

  • In the vegetable patch behind the Oath House (pg. 28)
  • At Nob's Spinney, tangled among the brambles (pg. 36)
  • Around the barn at Bolton Bog (pg. 38)
  • With a result of 12-15 on a d20 in a random encounter check (pg. 46)
  • POSSIBLY in the mouths of "moon-eyed" creatures, brought as offerings to the star (pg. 18). The text vaguely references this, but doesn't specifically call it out as a "find."

Also, just as a minor detail: the text says star metal fragments are valued "at five times their weight in gold" (pg. 2). The adventure also says that star-metal fragments are worth "50gp per pound of weight" (pg. 57). This conversion would imply that ten gold coins weigh one pound.

However, I use a conversion rate of 50 coins per pound. I consider it to be more believable, based on this post at the Dungeon Master's Workshop. So I said that star-metal was worth 250gp per pound, not 50.

That is an INCREDIBLY nitpicky thing that only I care about (probably). But I just thought I'd mention it.


And that's it: all my notes and advice on running this fantastic adventure. I hope it is helpful for you 🙂

Sunday, September 20, 2020

What's Your Appendix N?

I have recently been thinking about my “history” of interactions with the fantasy genre.

I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because September is a reflective time, or because the stresses of the present have me feeling nostalgic.

Regardless of the reasons why, ruminations on my own influences led me to Appendix N, the list of influences Gary Gygax provided at the end of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide.

I’ll admit that I’m woefully unfamiliar with most literature from Gygax’s Appendix N. Of the works listed there, I’ve only read Tolkien. I’m interested in reading more, though – especially after Web DM’s recent video on Pulp Fiction. I’ve added several Appendix N authors to my “wish-list” of books.

So of course, when acknowledging that many of the works in Appendix N didn’t introduce me to the fantasy genre, I have to ask myself... what did?

This post is an answer to that question.


It is hard for me to establish exactly when I got "into" the fantasy genre. I don’t remember interacting with it much in elementary school. From what I recall, my first dips into fantasy came from middle school.

In middle school, I remember reading books like A Knight’s Wyrd, Sabriel, and The Inheritance Cycle. There’s Crispin and the Cross of Lead, though that might be more “historical fiction” than “fantasy.” And the “ology” series of books, including Dragonology and Wizardology. I loved these books as a kid, and they sparked my imagination.

I also purchased this poster of dragon species to hang on my wall. I didn’t even know what Dungeons & Dragons was, at the time. I just liked dragons.

My first exposure to D&D came from purchasing a poster for a game I'd never played... because I liked dragons.

Interestingly, I didn’t read Tolkien or see The Lord of the Rings movies until much later, as an upperclassman in high school. This was after I’d already been introduced to fantasy tabletop RPGs. Therefore, Tolkien had a peculiarly “late” influence on my inculcation in the fantasy genre. I feel like that’s different from what most people experience.

I also missed the boat on the Harry Potter series. Somehow, as a nerd coming of age during their surge in popularity, I completely sidestepped the Hogwarts groundswell. Oddly enough, I remember reading Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in elementary school. I hadn’t read Harry Potter at the time, but loved the encyclopedic catalog of fantasy creatures and checked it out of the library several times.

I also remember playing several fantasy-themed video games in middle school. Lionhead Studio’s original Fable was perhaps the first one. I can’t count the number of times I played that game through to completion; I even bought Fable: The Lost Chapters with saved allowance money to play the additional content, meaning I effectively owned the game twice.

(I realize it might seem strange to have played Fable as a young kid, considering it was rated “M for mature.” But really I think it was pretty tame for an M-rated game. And my parents trusted me as a pretty mature young person, which I’m grateful for).

Now that I’m older, I can see the flaws of the original Fable. I now know the hype and disappointment that came with its release. However, all of that went over my head as a young person in the early 2000s. I bought it "used" at a discount. It was one of the first RPGs I ever played, and I loved it for what it was.

I also played The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Because I played it at such a young age, its open world and difficulty kept me from making it far. I still enjoyed just wandering around, however. Even today, I’ve never “beaten” the main questline of Morrowind. It’s on my list of games to revisit, at some point.

I spent much more time playing the next game, Oblivion, and actually saw it through to completion (several times). I distinctly remember one character I made in Oblivion named Rivel. He was a paladin type who used heavy armor and Restoration magic. And I truly “role-played” him in a way I never did before. I haven’t really done the same with any game since, either.

With Rivel, I played the game in a simulationist way. Rivel ate three times a day and slept each night, though the game didn’t require you to. Rivel never fast-traveled. And in my mind, I kind of created the “character” of Rivel as a separate entity from myself. Rather than playing the game as a “player” – doing quests and such because it’s what I wanted to do – I reacted to the situations that arose in the game and responded as what I thought Rivel would do.

When playing Rivel, there would be “days” spent in the game where I simply “role-played” Rivel – walking around the castle, visiting Chorrol to talk to villagers, and scouting the nearby forest for monsters and deer. As an adult looking back, I can see now that playing the game this way was basically me channeling my imaginative play as a kid (“playing pretend”) through a video game.

And as incredibly nerdy and strange as this may seem, it was totally fun. Probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a video game, and maybe ever will. I’m ashamed to say that my imagination isn’t the same as an adult. I can’t lose myself in a game like that anymore; I get distracted by thoughts about changing the oil in the car or repairing the water heater. It’s sad.

Moving on from the loss of innocence…

Thief: Deadly Shadows was another big influence on me. I was too young to enjoy the original Thief game or The Dark Project, but Garrett epitomized what it meant to be a fantasy RPG “rogue” in my mind. The Pagans and the Hammerites eventually influenced my ideas of Druids and Clerics, respectively. And of course, there’s also the guards from Thief, who profoundly influenced my conception of a fantasy “city watch.”

Of all these influences, some elements that stand out as directly influencing on my idea of “fantasy:”

·         The encounter on the bridge with Snowy Granius. For some reason, this single moment in Morrowind seems to encapsulate everything I remember about the game. As a young player, it was difficult, scary, and exciting. And just so wonderfully weird. To this day, my “default” scenario for introducing a new player to an RPG system is this: you come to a bridge crossing a deep chasm. You see a poorly-dressed man on the other side. He looks angry. What do you do?

This moment will forever live in my mind.

·         The general sense of playfulness and innocence. I realize Fable was overtly violent (I mean, you can decapitate enemies and blood comes spurting out of their neck) and the game contains sexual innuendo. But the “fairy tale” setting of Albion (and the humor that accompanied it) has stuck with me throughout my time gaming. My taste for this sort of “light-hearted” fantasy might be why I have yet to “get into” the gritty and dour settings like A Song of Ice and Fire. My taste of fantasy lies somewhere between the “low” fantasy of Game of Thrones and the “high” fantasy of The Lord of the Rings. Both of these are slightly too serious for me; I prefer The Hobbit and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

·         The music. To this day, the soundtracks of Fable, Morrowind, and Oblivion have a permanent place on my playlists at the gaming table. When I hear Oakvale by Russell Shaw or Wings of Kynareth by Jeremy Soule, I am moved.


Why write all of this?

Well, it’s been on my mind lately. That’s one reason.

But another reason is recognition of the fact that role-playing is a generative exercise that draws from source material. In other words, every fantasy tabletop RPG session creates a new narrative from the events that transpire at the table. However, that new narrative originates from references and touchstones rooted in prior experience.

Expressed in a different way, you can imagine each RPG session as an original song. Each song is unique and new. However, each song is composed from notes that existed before the song. Each composer (players and referee) uses the notes they know when composing.

In the case of fantasy tabletop RPGs, the “notes” from which a composer chooses are their prior experiences. Any experience is subject to be reproduced (such as knowledge from history or their own personal lives), but ideas and inspiration from media in the fantasy genre is especially relevant.

And looking back to the early games I ran, especially in high school, I can see how I reproduced those experiences I had in the fantasy genre. I now draw a lot more inspiration from tabletop RPG texts themselves, such as early TSR modules. But before I steeped myself in those, the tabletop RPG games I played were heavily influenced by Fable and The Elder Scrolls.

And in closing, I also think it’s also helpful to recognize how the influences of the fantasy genre are changing. Whereas folks in the 1980s and 90s likely came with primarily literary influences, I would say that visual media (ex. video games, movies, television series) have become more influential in the 21st century, for better or worse.

I can definitely see this in the younger players I game with, who list video games and movies foremost among the fantasy-genre things they like. And when I introduce the game to kids, their touchstones are often things like How to Train Your Dragon and Frozen. I’m not sure what to make of this, but it is a trend that’s happening.

So: what are the fantasy influences you bring to your games? And what parts of them have stuck with you?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Glaive: An OSR Ruleset

After repeatedly referencing the homebrew ruleset our group played with, I figured I’d best get around to posting it.

I realize that the fantasy tabletop RPG community needs another ruleset like it needs another hole in the head. Like Arnold K said on Goblin Punch:

“Everyone has a homebrew ruleset, and everyone wants to show it to other people, or at slap it around until it's presentable. But no one is interested in your fantasy heartbreaker.  This is because everyone is up to their ascending colon in retroclones and besides, they're busy writing their own. It's like trying to tell other people about your dreams.  No one cares.  Give them content, not another retroclone. I know these things, and yet here I am.”

However, I find it ironic that Arnold said that before posting his ruleset, but so many people (including myself) have found inspiration from his magic system. He seemed to assume that no-one would care, but in reality he gave ideas to many folks who read his rules system ❤️️

In the same way, I realize that few people will likely read this ruleset, and even fewer will find a table to run it. But I have it – so why not share it, right? The chance that someone might find a valuable idea here outweighs the cost.

I’ll provide a link to the full ruleset at the end of this post. First, a bit of background:


What is this ruleset?

It’s basically a combination of Ben Milton’s Knave and Arnold K’s GLOG.

The game derives its ability score system from Knave. Each ability score provides a bonus to d20 rolls equal to the ability score minus 10. For example, an ability score of 14 provides a +4 bonus to d20 rolls, while an ability score of 8 provides a -2 penalty. This modifier replaces to-hit and saving throw bonuses from character class.

From the GLOG, this system takes the use of “templates” for the first four class levels, as well as the system of “magic dice” with mishaps and dooms.

Besides these two influences, there are also nods to a dozen other systems throughout – such as usage dice from the Black Hack, Labyrinth Lord’s character sheet, mighty deeds of arms from Dungeon Crawl Classics, and magic item sale rules from 5e.


Why is it called “Glaive?”

It’s a mix of the GLOG and Knave. So, Glaive 😉

Glaives (from Handbook of Weapon Knowledge: Weaponry in Its Historical Development from the Beginning of the Middle Ages to the End of the 18th Century by Wendelin Boeheimc. 1890)

 Who should play this game?

I can think of several things that might draw you to this game:

·         If you desire an exploration-focused, rather than a combat-focused, game. This was my primary reason for designing this system. Pathfinder and D&D 5e both emphasized high-fantasy, “action-hero” style gameplay built around combat encounters. In this game, combat is swift, high-stakes, and generally undesirable (as experience comes from treasure, rather than combat). While dropping to 0 hit points is rather forgiving compared to the death rules of many retroclones (to offer the referee a chance to have the PCs be captured, rather than killed), this game is not about killing monsters. It is about acquiring treasure.

·         If you’d like magic to be dangerous and unpredictable. Another thing that irked me about modern d20 systems is the safety and reliability of magic. Spells reliably went off “as intended,” and PCs had access to so much magic that magic no longer seemed magical. This game therefore “scales back” the magic PCs have access to and, in the way of the GLOG, makes any second- or third-level spell run the risk of negative consequences. Importantly, cantrips do not exist; magic is an inherently limited resource.

·         If you desire more player options than B/X or AD&D. One of the reasons I didn’t want to play Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, or Old School Essentials straight “out of the box” is because of the linear mechanical progression for player characters; in other words, all mechanical decisions are made about the character at first level. From ability scores to class templates, this system offers more ways to customize and mechanically differentiate player characters from one another, still without the overwhelm or saturation of options that come from other modern systems.

·         If you’d like to use ability checks to resolve actions. I realize ability checks are something of a controversial topic within the OSR sphere – some folks disdain them as “roll-playing,” rather than role-playing – but I personally think they’re integral to the game. In my mind, they add stakes and impartial adjudication to dangerous actions. I acknowledge that ability checks, when rolled too often and at inappropriate times, detract from the game. But when used correctly, I think they offer a streamlined way to resolve player character actions and offer twists or consequences for failure.


Where did these new ability scores come from?

Perhaps the biggest divergence this game offers from other RPG systems is the use of new ability scores. If you’re reading this, you’re likely familiar with D&D's sacred Big Six: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. When designing a new rules system, I decided early on I didn’t want to stick with these.

First of all, Dexterity seemed superior to other ability scores (especially in Pathfinder or 5e). It modified AC, ranged attacks, saving throws, skills, and initiative, among other things. “Dexterity” seemed to describe a lot of things about a character – not only how quick they were, but also their overall coordination – and therefore had many mechanical benefits. Therefore, I decided to split Dexterity into two new stats: Finesse and Agility.

Secondly, Wisdom seemed to vague and ill-defined for me. It seemed to generally indicate some sort of magical aptitude, due to modifying clerical and druid spells. But it also modified Perception, and will saves. And defining the difference between Wisdom and Intelligence is a hair-splitting exercise, even if you try to explain it with tomatoes. So I split Wisdom into another two stats: Awareness and Willpower.


Early on, I decided I wanted to diverge from the standard "Big Six." Image sourced from here.

What do these new ability scores do?

Finesse governs things requiring care and precision. It covers ranged attacks and rolls made to hide, move silently, or steal things unnoticed. Agility governs things requiring speed and quickness. It covers rolls made to dodge, evade, or otherwise move nimbly. Agility also modifies defense rolls, though armor limits the bonus available from Agility.

Awareness is basically the “Perception” skill from modern d20 games, extrapolated as its own ability score. Besides finding & noticing, it also governs d20 rolls made to use divine (clerical) or primal (nature) magic. The idea is that Awareness reflects a broader “attunement” to the world at large.

Willpower is the “defensive” aspect of Wisdom, used for what would typically be Will saves in Pathfinder or 3e. It’s used to defend against mind-affecting spells. A character’s Willpower also affects the amount of magic dice they have; a character’s maximum number of magic dice per day is equal to their Willpower bonus. This means spellcasting characters will want to invest in their spellcasting stat (either Intelligence or Awareness) and Willpower.

Side note: I developed the idea to make Awareness its own stat last year, but recently saw Perception as its own stat in Low FantasyGaming just a month ago. Funny how things like that happen 😂


Is there anything else I should know if I plan to use this rules system?

First of all, you need an old-school treasure table and monster manual to run it. I would recommend the free ones from Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy RPG, or the one from Old School Essentials if you have it. Any of those would work. The bestiary from Low Fantasy Gaming would also be good. Since it gives ability scores to the creatures, it allows for more differentiation than Knave’s approach of giving each creature a Target Number of 10 + HD.

Secondly, this game is not “balanced.” Though the system works well within itself, I make no guarantees that class abilities and spells are “balanced” against one another. If there are players in your group who care about min-maxing, character builds, and “exploits,” they will probably find something to take advantage of. So just be mindful of that. This game is not designed with that kind of play in mind.

Thirdly, just let me know how it goes. I’d be excited to hear that someone actually uses this rules system. I certainly enjoy playing with it, and I hope you experience the same if you find a table willing to give this a shot 😊

Here’s acknowledgements for many of the rules systems I read as inspiration for this one:

  • ·        Maze Rats and Knave
  • ·         GLOG
  • ·         Rats on Sticks / Many Rats on Sticks
  • ·         The Black Hack
  • ·         Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • ·         Old School Essentials
  • ·         Labyrinth Lord
  • ·         Basic Fantasy RPG
  • ·         Dungeons & Dragons 5e
  • ·         Pathfinder

       And last but not least, the rules system itself. Enjoy! ✌️

Sunday, September 6, 2020

The Secret Doors of Dyson's Delve

Recently, I got the urge to run Dyson’s Delve, a (graciously) free-to-download “Mini Mega-dungeon” available on Dyson Logos’ blog.

For a free adventure, Dyson’s Delve is excellent. Heck, it would be great even if you had to pay for it. It’s got all the things on Arnold K’s Dungeon Checklist, as far as I can tell.

The first level of Dyson's Delve, and an excellent example of Dyson Logos' stellar mapmaking skills.

As great as Dyson’s Delve is, a bit of work I’m doing to run it involves “filling in” the secret doors in the dungeon. Most of the secret doors on the map receive little attention in the text with regards to how they are hidden or how they operate.

Mind you, this is hardly a complaint. You can’t really complain about a free adventure, in my opinion. But, as I’m spending time to think through & flesh out these secret doors, I figured I would share my work. Perhaps it will save other referees the time and energy.

So, here it goes: a description of each secret door in Dyson’s Delve. And obviously, if you’re a player in one of my games or will be a player in Dyson’s Delve, you probably shouldn’t read this.

*I also should add that, although there is a distinction between secret doors and concealed doors, I treat them as one and the same for the purposes of this dungeon.


Level 2, between Areas 3 & 4: This is actually a normal wooden door blocked with furniture and barrels on the west side by the goblins (to prevent creatures passing through from #4).

·         A casual inspection on the west side reveals only the furniture and barrels stacked against the wall, though anyone who inspects the pile closely will notice the door behind them. The clutter can be moved aside with a few minutes of careful work.

·         If characters attempt to pass through the door from the east to the west while the furniture remains, treat the door as if it were stuck. Knocking over the clutter in haste will inevitably make much noise, necessitating a random encounter check.

Level 3, between Areas 2 & 3: Each of the alcoves in this wall contains several burial niches. Some are empty. Some have corpses. Some of the corpses are ghouls. (Think of the resting place of the draugr in Skyrim). In the alcove marked with a secret door, the bottommost burial niche has no back wall. Instead, a tunnel passes through to room 3.

·         Standing characters will not notice this tunnel with a casual inspection; only characters who bend down to search the niche will notice the bottommost one has no wall behind it.

·         Passing through the tunnel requires crawling on hands and knees, as it is only 2ft tall and 6ft wide. Characters may also have to remove their backpacks (if they wear them).

My inspiration for the secret door above. I'm imagining a wall lined with several burial niches, as in Skyrim. Image source here.

Three Secret Doors on Level 4: This series of secret doors is used by the lizard men to prey on the goblins and remain hidden from the manticores. This means the doors must be well-hidden and discreet to use.

My idea is to change these secret “doors” into secret trapdoors. In other words, rather than secret doors in the wall, these are secret doors in the floor. And, rather than being part of the dungeon’s initial construction, rooms 9, 10, and 13 are actually tunnels dug by the lizardfolk underneath Level 4.

Therefore rooms 11, 12, and 8 each have large flagstones on the floor. The lizardfolk have “hollowed out” sections underneath the flagstones, allowing them to be raised up and pushed aside to allow passage through (like a manhole cover).

When the lizardfolk prepare to exit, they carefully raise the flagstone and peek out to see if the “coast is clear.” If so, they lift the flagstone entirely and crawl out, then carefully replace it before conducting their raid. Once finished, they return and disappear back down the whole, with one lizardfolk always carefully keeping watch.

Finding these secret tunnels is quite difficult, as the lizardfolk are very clever. Only those who purposefully inspect the floors in rooms 11, 12, or 8 will notice a single tile in each room lacks grout or mortar around it. If you’d like to be a generous referee, you may also say characters have a chance to notice dirt or mud lizard-prints somewhere in the dungeon, perhaps leading to a corner of the room, but disappearing.

Furthermore, lifting the flagstone with bare hands is quite difficult. A tool like a crowbar is necessary to raise it (which the lizardfolk possess).

Characters who carefully listen while on this level (or spend much time here, such as by resting) may hear the lizardfolk emerge from their tunnels (though they try to be quiet about it). Characters who quietly rest or wait in rooms 11, 12, or 8 may even catch a glimpse of a lizardfolk carefully lifting a floor tile to peek out, though any lizardfolk who see a character will quickly try to conceal their presence. The lizardfolk will fight to the death to protect their tunnels and their lair in room 13.

Level 6, between Area 12 to Area 4: Each side of the wall in these locations bears a carved green gargoyle face with a gaping mouth ~4ft in diameter. The mouth is filled with complete darkness that absorbs all light (as per the darkness spell), which conceals a tunnel passing through the wall to the other side.

Air passes through the gargoyle’s mouth, as well as noises from the other side of the wall (if any).

Get the reference?

Level 9, between Areas 1 & 2: Room #1 possesses victims of the cockatrices’ petrification. The door to room 2 is a normal wooden door that swings inward to room 1. The troglodytes block the door with a petrified giant scorpion, which prevents the door from being opened without moving the statue. Each time they wish to enter room 2, the troglodytes move the scorpion aside. The scorpion, made entirely of stone, weighs approximately 1000lbs.

·         Characters with a combined Strength score of 33 or higher can drag the scorpion across the floor, allowing the door to be opened at the expense of making noise and necessitating a random encounter check.

·         Characters with a combined Strength score of 67 or higher can lift the scorpion off the floor sufficiently to prevent it from making noise, when moved.

·         Characters on this level may hear the troglodytes grunt and scrape while moving the scorpion statue to get inside #2. Similarly, characters who leave and return to this room may notice the scorpion statue having moved, freeing the door. In this case, a squad of troglodytes will be resting inside #2.

Level 9, between Areas 13 & 15: The wererats have placed a pair of large, sagging bookshelves here to block a hole in the wall that leads to the lair of the Caecilia. The books are invariably water-damaged and moldering.

·         Investigation of the bookshelves will notice cold air passing from behind them. Light brought close to the bookshelves reveals a cavern beyond the thin gap between them.

·         The bookshelves can be quickly dissembled, at the expense of making a lot of noise. Besides necessitating a random encounter check, this noise will also wake the Caecilia.

·         The bookshelves can be carefully and quietly dissembled at the expense of time and all the costs that incurs (ex. dwindling torches)

And that is all the secret doors in Dyson’s Delve! I hope this was helpful for you 👍 Best of luck in your adventures there.