Sunday, October 14, 2018

OSR Vision, activate!

So the last item on the questionnaire that Zak has been circulating asks you to share "The OSRest picture I could post on short notice."  Here are a bunch of the results gathered together, as sort of a snapshot of the OSR aesthetic.

From Holmes Basic, a mixed team of adventurers fighting a horrible monster.

From the Fiend Folio (Russ Nicholson, fuck yeah!), same basic concept as above, but with a grell.

I love the mood here.

I'm pretty sure this piece is from Down in the Dungeon.

A piece from the LotFP rulebook.  Nice!

The classic illo of the best, most ridiculous room in module B1 In Search of the Unknown.

Cleric lady from Mentzer Basic.

Before today, the only RPG item I knew called Beyond the Wall was a Pendragon supplement about the Picts.  This OSR book looks pretty interesting.

Pete Mullen does great work.

My contribution was fan art for my own campaign.  You can read that as either a concern over actual play versus retail products or sheer egomania.  The choice is yours.

The classic AD&D screen art.  Brings back a lot of memories for me.

This one is creepy as heck.  Is this Scrap Princess's work?  Looks like it.

I like how this one depicts the tininess of humanity in comparison to the sheer scale of the underworld environ.

This one I'm a little conflicted about.  On the one hand, I'm a fan of the classic texts (though the Survival Guides I can take or leave) but on the other hand, the books themselves don't amount to much with how some people doing something with them.

I really like how this piece depicts a bunch of different non-combat activities.

Actual play!  Yeah!  That's the thing!

I don't see enough people using torches as weapons.

Nice dungeon architecture with exploration of an unusual feature.  I also like her hoop earring.

One of Robert Altbauer's Crusaders vs. Cthulhu-type pieces.  Are any OSR publishers throwing this guy some work?  If not, somebody needs to get on that. 

More actual play!  Huzzah!

Classic Trampier piece showing the party finally making that big score.

This is a miniature of a chained demon whose butt is being used as a cannon.  That is what we are looking at right now.

A great illo from the UK version of Holmes Basic.

Quick campaign concept: Lord of the Rings, but Sauron is a mad half man/half pterosaur genetic engineer who likes to turn people into dinosaurs.  Also, all halflings have random mutations.

Yeah, this Tramp piece came up twice.

What I said about Robert Altbauer needing to be used by the OSR also goes for this Andrew Walter guy here.

This is from Misty Isles of Eld, which I have had on my DriveThru wishlist forever.  So I just bought it and Beyond the Wall.

So that's a pretty darn good selection of OSR visuals.  I am slightly disappointed that no Erol Otus pieces showed up in the mix.  I almost posted an Otus pic myself, but I couldn't make up my mind among several contenders.  He has so many great illustrations of adventuring parties getting wrecked by weird monsters.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire
this was Zak's idea, by the way 

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Joesky the Dungeon Brawler's A TABLE FOR THE BAD GUYS!!!!!!!.  Joesky's aesthetic may not be for everyone, but I read his work as the comical presentation of a serious attempt to engage with the big questions of the scene.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

James Raggi's "I can't find any players!"

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

Oh, man, the compilation of the first four issues of Fight On! is so sweet, my friends.

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):

James Maliszewski's liquid courage rule (from here):
Liquid Courage
Once per session, characters who possess strong alcoholic beverages may partake of them to gain an additional 1D6 hit points that lasts for the duration of the next combat, after which these “spiritous hit points” disappear should they not have already been used up in the combat.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

I'm been sitting here struggling with how to answer this one.  I think the scene kinda bubbled up into existence around me.  One day I just noticed some overlap between the people at the OD&D forums and Dragonsfoot and Knights & Knaves.  Some of these people didn't just want to run the old games exactly as they had in their youths.  Then stuff like Castles & Crusades and Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC helped imagine a path forward.  At some point there was just a critical mass of people who wanted to take the old stuff in new directions.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:

Alex Schroeder's Links to Wisdom wiki.  Add good stuff to it, please!

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

Despite it's limitations, I've been digging twitter recently.  If you're there and I don't follow you, please let me know!

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

In the face of the Google+ sunset, I'm trying, but I'm not sure if I get it yet.  I'm also trying though I'm not convinced going back to message boards is the right solution.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

Level limits for non-humans are good and fun.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:

Well, the only non-old school game I can see on my shelves right now is Nathan D. Paoletta's World Wide Wrestling RPG, a Powered by the Apocalypse story game that takes the kayfabe side of wrestling seriously.  But I haven't played it.

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

Gygax and Arneson hit on something magical, but there's no good reason why that magical needs to be bottle and sold to us by a big corporation.  There's no reason why a central committee needs to set an agenda for the hobby.  As a kid new to the hobby I didn't understand how slavishly lapping up the offerings of TSR shaped my view of what D&D could be, what behaviors (good or ill) it reinforced, what doors it closed.  Fantasy roleplaying is an open-ended, artistic, mythological activity between human beings.  We don't need an official imprimatur to make that work, in fact such approval inevitable cuts us off from some avenues of exploration.  Within the vague concept of "games like this," the OSR is a diffuse, non-centralized, network of individual exploration and group interchange, respecting the right of the individual soul to dream while keeping us connected to each other.

Also, I am not over wizards and dragons and never will be.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

The FLAILSNAILS Conventions and the network of games that resulted from them continue to be one of the coolest bits of nerdery I have ever had the pleasure to participate in.  And I love the attitude of good faith and trust in our fellow players that lie behind them.

Random Character Advancement Charts are lots of fun.  Here's a central storehouse of them, but their are others out there.  

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

Dang.  This is the hardest question to answer of the bunch.  As a practical matter, I steal more from Zak S. than anyone else, so I guess I gotta go with

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

I think Broodmother Skyfortress turned out nicely.

15. I'm currently running/playing:

Nothing.  I need to get my shit together.

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

I can always just ask you what armor you are wearing and what your Dex score is, or tell you what you need to roll to-hit.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

This is a player-made illo of a key point in my last campaign, which, for a number of reasons, would never have happened (the whole campaign, not just this moment) without the old school scene.  Illo by Nick Kuntz, one of the many fine people who took the time to make the Vyzor campaign something special.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

An Attempt to Account for Natural Sunlight in the Caves of Chaos

Factors to consider: location of sun, elevation level, intervening foliage






I've probably made several mistakes here, since I've never attempted this kind of analysis and lack formal training as an artist or an astronomer.  However, I will tentatively conclude that if exploring the Caves first thing in the morning, Cave J looks particularly inviting.  A little later in the morning, Cave I, particularly the left branch at the entrance, becomes a good choice.  At least, based upon ambient lighting alone.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

how to make a megadungeon without really trying

So I've never found a commercially available megadungeon that really spoke to me, that made me say out loud "Yes! I want to spend the next fifty sessions running this bad boy again and again!"  There are lots of megadungeons out now with lots of good stuff in them, but I've not found one where the totality of it moved me to action.

In the nineties I tried solving this problem by using various random dungeon generators, like the one in the back of the first edition DMG.  That takes a long time for each level to be developed.  And doing this work helped me figure out a couple of things about my own approach to dungeon mastering:
  • Although I have certain gut opinions about the aesthetics of dungeon maps and how they should be designed, I don't take much joy in drawing out levels myself.
  • Ditto for stocking dungeon keys.  
I can looked at a finished dungeon level and key and form an opinion about whether a level is too crowded or sparse, whether the monsters work together, the flow of the passages, etc.  But building levels to conform with those ideas doesn't feel like fun.  It feels like homework.  So here's what I do instead,

Like many DMs, I own a lot of published dungeons.  And given the amount of free and cheap D&D material available on the interwebs, we all have access to approximately one gerjillion dungeons of various sizes and complexity.  My method now is to plunder that archive and assemble my megadungeon out of bits and pieces of other dungeons.

So, for example, you can take the first level of module B1 In Search of the Unknown, the moathouse dungeon from T1 The Village of Hommlet, the sample dungeon from Holmes Basic, and the same dungeon from the first edition DM and put 'em together like this: 

All I did here was drop some images of these maps into  You can use Gimp or Adobe Illustrator.  The B1 map is a low ink version that someone on Dragonsfoot made many years ago.

I resized them all to roughly the same grid scale, no need to be super precise here.  Heck,you can see  I made a boo-boo moving the Zenopus dungeon from Holmes basic that I didn't bother to correct.  (This is a DMs working map, not art for public display.)  I looked for how to arrange these maps based upon where it would be easy to cut and paste a bit of corridor to connect them.  That's how you get from Quasqueton to the Abbey dungeon of the DMG to the Holmes dungeon.  

I rotated the Moathouse and used the paint tool to line up the Zenopus rat tunnels and the Moathouse ghoul warrens.  That's currently the only way the Moathouse dungeon is connected to the rest of the map.  If you don't want to brave Viet Cong style tunnel fighting against ghouls and giant rats, the only way to reach part of level 1 of this megadungeon is to exit and re-enter through the moathouse level entrance.  Or maybe there's an aquatic route.  I lined up the DMG and Holmes maps so that one can imagine the trickling stream of the DMG map flowing into the underground river of Holmes.  Maybe the giant crawdad pool in the Moathouse dungeon also connects to this underwater system.  Add some eggs to the crawdad lair and--if they are still there, say, ten sessions into the campaign--let those eggs hatch.  You can now see some places some young giant crayfish may migrate to in the dungeon.

That's the fun part for me, making connections between these disparate dungeon sections.  There are a lot of undead bumming about this new mega-level.  Are they all part of one necromantic scheme?  How do the berserkers in Quasqueton relate to the bandits under the Moathouse, or the smugglers under Zenopus?  Those are wildly more interesting questions to me than "What's in room 22?".  In this case, there's also the matter of the above ground structures mentions in the texts of dungeons.  Maybe the moathouse, the tower of Zenopus, the tower of Quasqueton, and the Abbey were part of a titantic sprawling fortified abbey that now lies largely in ruins on the surface.

You don't need any skill with graphics programs to use this method.  For the first level of the Vaults of Vyzor, I simply redrew the level maps on some big-ass graph paper:

Not pictured: Orange Lake (north of Citrine 1) and Purple 1 (south of Rose 1).
But this is the main section of level 1.
I got this 11"x14" graph paper (6 squares to an inch) at GaryCon II or III.  Black Blade Publishing was selling it.  Is Black Blade defunct?  Their website seems to have last been updated in 2010.  (UPDATE: Allen Grohe says Black Blade is still an ongoing operation.  Contact him or Jon Hershberger directly or visit You can get similar products from office supply stores, Amazon, etc.  Some day I'm going to get something like this and go real nerd crazy.

Anyway, if you look at these four levels smooshed together you'll see that there's only one corridor connecting each to the next one.  That was sufficient for 50 sessions of play, especially given that other connections existed in the lower levels.

You don't even need to go to the work of making a big map like this.  Levels 2 through 5 of Vyzor were never mapped out this way.  I just corridors leading off the page with a not "connects to room 24, page 7" or something like that.  You have to be careful annotate both ends of each connection and be mindful of the over all layout, but it totally works without the hassle of redrawing a bunch of maps.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

some miscellaneous links

  • Dungeons and Possums is one of my favorite new blogs, and not just because of his rave review of Broodmother Skyfortress.  It's also because Possum interviewed me and fellow co-conspirators Alex and Jez.  No seriously, it's a neato blog and Possum doesn't some absolutely charming illo work.
  • The module I wrote for one of Raggi's GenCon exclusives sold out at Noble Knight the same day it went on sale, but you can now buy the PDF at RPGNow/Drivethru.  Here's a review of all four LotFP GenCon releases by Peter Webb of the blog Instadeath, and here's a video review by Crazy Sheep.  I played the latter for my wife today and she deadpanned "I didn't know Elvira reviewed game stuff."
  • Over the past few weeks I've written some stuff and utterly failed to link it all here.  So have four new classes, three of them of the Random Advancement sort. 
  • Also I made these silly random rules for dwarf names.
  • Finally, here's the first result that came up when I did a Google image search for the terms "frankenstein dragon."
I'm sorry, but those shoes are absolutely ridiculous.  Even I can't justify such absurdities.

Friday, August 24, 2018

a dumb project idea

This would be a good project for someone who got around to more game conventions than I do.  Start with a large scrapbook/photo album.  Something like this one:

The insides are these sturdy, creamy beige pages.  I've used this exact type of album to teach undergrads about medieval manuscript practices.  We'd copy in bits of literature as if we were scribes, then annotate each others' work in the margins.  Those that got it thought it was kinda fun.  You can't tell from the pics above, but this album is pretty large.

The next step would be to take two copies of your favorite old school product and destroy them by cutting them into individual sheets.  That's the crazy part.  With some rubber cement or similar adhesive, attach each page to a sheet in the album, in order.

Then take this monstrosity to conventions and gamestore events and invite people to annotate the text.  Maybe they want to clarify a rule or argue with the author or tell a brief story about their favorite monster or magic item.  Whatever they want to say, invite them to say it.  Maybe they see a comment from someone else and want to respond to that.

The result is that pages in the album would start looking like this:

I think this would be a fun way to collect the opinions and experiences of a wide ranger of gamers.  It'd probably be a hassle to lug this big thing all over a larger convention, though.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Venderant Nalaberong & Godpower

1.  WTF is Venderant Nalaberong?

In Doctor Who, they call this the Skasis Paradigm, the base code of the universe, and/or block-transfer computation.  Tolkien called it the Music of the Ainur.  On Synnibarr, it is referred to as Venderant Nalaberong.

The concept is simple.  Reality, at its most fundamental level, is not made of matter or energy, but rather consists of pure form, pure symbol.  If you can do the right math, sing the right song, or say the right words, you can alter the universe from the ground up.

Ordinary arcane magic doesn't work this way.  Typical arcane magic consists of figuring out how to jump in that one correct spot to leap out of the level proper and into the parts of the game you're not supposed to go.  The people who first figured out the rocket jump, the folks who use glitches to achieve speedrunning records?  Total run-of-the-mill magic-users.  The people who actually get into the code of the game and alter it are the ones using Venderant Nalaberong.

No one teaches Venderant Nalaberong.  You have to encounter it.  The first time an arcane caster comes across a scroll, spellbook, or other inscription written in Venderant Nalaberong, roll percentile dice.  If you get your Int score or less, the secret is revealed to you and you can employ any Venderant Nalaberong magic you find.  If you roll a 99 you go mad and if you roll 00 your head explodes.  Any other roll indicates that you don't get it and never will.

So why would you even want to risk it?  Three reasons:
  1. About 1 in 10 ancient scrolls, spellbooks, etc. are written in Venderant Nalaberong.  They're useless if you don't understand it.
  2. The highest level arcane spells aren't available in any other form.  Since my games start from BX D&D and build from there, that means 7+ level spells are all ancient Venderant Nalaberong technology.
  3. No other form of magic can beat Venderant Nalaberong.
That last one means, for instance, that a standard Globe of Invulnerability is completely useless against a Venderant Nalaberong attack spell.  And a persistent effect powered by a Venderant Nalaberong spell can't be dispelled, unless you know the Venderant Nalaberong version of Dispel Magic.

How Venderant Nalaberong works in adjacent universes is up to the individual FLAILSNAILS referee.  Maybe Venderant Nalaberong powered spells work just like ordinary spells.  Maybe they don't work at all.  Pandimensional vagabonds are urged to test their Venderant Nalaberong spells before using them in a new reality.

2. Godpower

Godpower is the power used by the gods.  Pretty simple, eh?  Whether the first god found or invented Godpower is a subject of great dispute among theologians.  What they all agree upon is the fact that divine magic as we know it is basically Godpower with all the safety filters turned on so as to not damage puny mortal casters.

Everytime a new level after the first is achieved by a cleric, paladin, or other divine caster (excepting druidic/shamanic sorts; on Synnibarr they use Earthpower), they may roll percentile dice to see if they get access to any undiluted Godpower.  If they roll their Wisdom or less, they gain d3 non-renewable points of Godpower.  On a 99, they have inadvertently cheesed off their patron deity and loss all divine powers until they atone.  On a 00 they have somehow lost access to pure Godpower forever, losing any accumulated points and their opportunity to roll for future Godpower points.  Gods are fickle sometimes.

To spend a Godpower point, Wisdom or less must be rolled on a d20.  A failure indicates the point is lost with no effect.  A natural 20 means that all accumulated Godpower points are unleashed in a blast of (un)holiness doing d20 damage per point to the caster and everyone in a 100' radius.

Cleric just prior to a Godpower fumble.
Spending one point of Godpower allows for the users choice of the following effects:

  • Add d6 to your level for the purposes of the Turn Undead matrix
  • Increase the dice size of the number of Undead turned to d12's (i.e. 2d12 affected instead of 2d6)
  • Go berserk in combat, smiting foes in melee with +2 to-hit, +2 damage, and one extra attack per round for d6 rounds
  • Overpower a spell, adding d6 to your caster level
  • Increase the dice size of Cure-type spells to d12
  • Cast an extra spell off your normal spell lists, as if you had it prepped.
Spending two or more points of Godpower allows the user to negotiate a freeform miracle with the referee.  It cannot completely duplicate the form of a known spell, but it can achieve a similar effect.  For example, say the party once again cannot get the next door in the dungeon to open.  Spending two points of Godpower might allow the cleric to summon a bolt of holy lighting that shatters the door to pieces.  That's effectively a Knock spell, but with cooler window dressing, so it's okay.

Godpower probably only works on parallel universes where your particular god exists.

3. Final Note

Venderant Nalaberong and Godpower are effectively transparent to one another.  For example, a Venderant Nalaberong-powered Anti-Magic Shell is absolutely useless against a Godpower Flamestrike.  And Venderant Nalaberong attacks ignore Godpower defenses.