Sunday, 12 May 2019

Let's talk: Against the Darkmaster

It bears repeating that the OSR isn't just D&D, and the upcoming game Against the Darkmaster (VsD) is evidence of this. Starting as a bunch of Rolemaster house rules, VsD evolved into a ruleset if its own. Think streamlined, modified MERP. I've always found MERP pretty confusing in terms of layout and perhaps a little too esoteric, but it's always attracted me in a weird way.

You can download the deluxe quick start rules right now and a Kickstarter will go live sometime this year. Oh, and when I say quick start, I mean a 120 plus page book.

Everything uses a d100 mechanic, rolling d100 and adding various abilities and skills, cross-referencing with table to see how successful you've been. Combat is in the mid-crunch realm, relying on tables where damage is figured by looking at your weapon type and your opponent's armour, with damage having degrees of success and types of wound. Typically, this isn't the kind of combat system I go in for but it's all pretty simple.

Characters are formed of backgrounds, kin, cultures, and vocations, giving you a nice amount of customisation without getting too bogged down in min maxing. I like the kin types, like dusk elves, star elves and high humans, giving it a particularly high fantasy Tolkien feel. They each have their own attribute bonuses and special abilities. For instance, halflings gain double HP after eating a second breakfast. See what I mean about Tolkien?

Which brings us onto cultures, which is a mechanic I included in my own Dungeon Nights game, offering some extra background, equipment, skill ranks and helping to determine how wealthy (or dirt poor) you are. Cultures include City, which are obviously city or town dwellers, Woad, which are tribal folk, and Noble, who are rich types with privileged blood.

There are six vocations in the main game, but four in the quickstart. These include warrior, rogue, wizard, animist, dabbler and champion (the first four of which are in the QS). Your vocation offers you a pack of skill bonuses and/or vocational spell lores, which are types of magic, of which only wizard and animists can cast in the QS, but I'd imagine the dabbler will likely have some spells. You gain skill development points at character creation to choose which ones to upgrade, in addition to the innate bonuses you get. Ultimately, VsD is a skills game - your vocations don't get their own innate powers, but the wide array of skills actually make them highly customisable.

Speaking of customisation, we're not quite finished yet. Backgrounds can be purchased based on background points you get from your kin. For instance, my dusk elf rogue gained 3 background points, so I spent it on the major tier of Elven Training, meaning he can use his Swift attribute instead of Brawn when fighting with certain light swords, in addition to gaining a silver elf trait. Each background has two tiers that cost different points, so if you have enough points you could buy minor or major tiers in multiple backgrounds, rounding out your character and adding to their pot of abilities. Bring all of the above, kin, culture, vocation and background together and you have the ability to customise without being overburdened (looking at you, Pathfinder).

The game also has Passions and Drive. Passions are split into three categories: motivations, nature, allegiance. Each one of these is a statement the player comes up with at character creation with the help of the rest of the group. These are basically why your character is doing what they're doing and how they may react to situations. Passions link directly to drives, which is a mechanic that offers a boon. You can gain drive by playing on your passions, and spend it on bonuses, re-rolls and a few other nifty little things. It's a great mechanic that helps contribute to roleplaying and characterization.

I've not really sunk my teeth into the magic side of things yet, but it's point based and has the capacity to go wrong, which I really like. It's much more involved than your typical D&D OSR game, where casting spells can attract the attention of the Darkmaster himself and there are various modifiers to do with range, whether the target is moving and whether the spell is prepared or not that beef up the system a bit much for my taste. It's not overly complex, but I'd probably chuck a few rules out for streamlining purposes.

I'm super impressed with VsD as it stands and I look forward to backing the Kickstarter when it launches.

Image: Against the Darkmaster/ The Fellowship & Sego

Saturday, 4 May 2019

How I run games

I'm not saying that this is the right way to run a game, but it's the method that suits my GM style and my lifestyle.

I'm a fan of Sly Flourish's Lazy DM books and I take cues from these in terms of creating NPCs and locations, but not having anything fixed. I have to start a campaign with a hook, otherwise why bother, but after this hook it's fairly loosey goosey.

Take my current Aetherscream PF campaign. I have a setting (17th century aetherships, horror and Mediterranean fantasy), a hook (the PCs are finding their way home, a planet's godhead has vanished and may be their only hope of getting home), and some NPCs and factions (Will of the Elder as the theocratic church, Clayshrikes as golem augmented freedom fighters, Grey Ones as vastly knowledgeable underdwellers run by a hyper-intelligent psychic black pudding, Skywretches as an expanding empire of Hammer Horror monsters). I built in a couple of fun gimmicks, like the PCs pistols being Ghastlocks, guns that absorb monster souls and offer special bullet abilities.

The above took me the most effort to come up with but I also know it's a framework that I can alter as I go. Before every session I note a list of possible secrets that could be revealed in the session. Some of these come into play, others get crossed off or carried over to the next session.

I have a set of Rory's Storycubes I roll if I want to create a new NPC or simply understand what a situation entails. I find having these removes bandwidth from me, giving me a little random engine I can use to expand my universe on the fly. As a GM, you're the engine that drives the game, which uses a tonne of bandwidth. I use tables, lists, random rolls and the players to share the load.

Consequences matter. I don't think it's a particularly good game if the PCs have zero impact on the campaign world, so I note down how my world reacts to their actions and make sure they see it resolve. This can take the game in unexpected directions, which for me is the best part of a game. I have no prepared endpoint. I honestly don't think you can really play a good game if you already know how it ends, since you're essentially coaching your players towards that ending. I'm cool with dropping the main quest or hook altogether if something more interesting organically grows from play. At the moment, I have a couple of players that have written a manifesto in the game world to help unionise overworked guards. It stemmed from a joke, but is now going to have consequences to how the game world operates because I know how my world would react to this development. This could take things in a vastly new direction, but it may not.

Since it's Pathfinder, the most intense prep is creating maps and stocking them with creatures. This, by the way, is my least favourite part of GMing. Some people love it, but I do not. Before a session I'll make some notes on developments since last game, some new secrets, and take a location from my master list to flesh out if I know that's where they're heading. I couldn't give a shit about balancing "encounters", but I do it within reason since it's PF. I don't think too much about it - I know what dwells here, so I add the creatures that make sense and build the ecology on the fly. As an aside, I'm not a fan of long, drawn out combat. My fights rarely go to the death, with opponents either running away or surrendering. You get far more play options keeping a goblin alive than having them decapitated.

I used to have big bads with plot armour and all that nonsense, but that's dumb. If someone who I thought would be a tough big boss gets slaughtered by my min-max players then it simply wasn't a big boss. I don't want to be precious about any character in my game.

As I say, this isn't the only way to run a game. Some people love binders of intense prep, spending hours on their NPCs etc. This isn't a style for me. For me, less prep is more. It allows for flexibility and means that I don't get pissed if the PCs don't visit my intricately designed dungeon or meet an NPC with a page of backstory. Here's how I write an NPC: Talie Thundersnow, show-off thief, in love with Ozarn the potter. Hates the monarchy.

So, there's an insight into how I prep for and run a game. It might help you, it might not.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Tunnels and Trolls cartoon adventure comic launches on Kickstarter

Tunnels and Trolls never had much in the way of peripheral material. Ken wrote a couple of novels, but it's high time we got some new T&T fiction. Fortunately, a new comic called Tunnels and Trolls Cartoon Adventure has just launched on Kickstarter by Spanish publisher Hirukoa.

From the KS page, the story revolves around a group of adventurers - an elf wizard, a dwarf warrior, a human wizard and a... centaur rogue. I have to say, the latter surprised me as I don't really think centaurs when I think T&T. Leprechauns and fairies, but not horse people.

Aside from being a comic, this is also a series of solo adventures, a GM adventure, new items and monsters, in addition to mini T&T rules. Now this has piqued my interest.

If this sounds like something that interests you, please go to the Kickstarter page.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Why I carry a torch for Tunnels and Trolls

This blog was originally only about T&T. That was over 10 years ago now and, as anything, it's evolved to talking about all sorts of games. However, I never want to lose my roots - T&T is near and dear to my heart and I want, in some small way, to help it succeed.

There used to be a small T&T blogosphere. The Omnipotent Eye, The Lone Delver, Trollhammer Press and The Delving Dwarf to name but a handful in the space. Unfortunately all the aforementioned are no longer updating and haven't for a few years in some cases. Even official locations like the Trollhalla community has fallen into the arms of Facebook - a place I refuse to go.

While I'm not going to turn Trollish Delver into a full T&T blog again (I have my OWN games to blather on about now) I do want to continue to carry the torch, to light the beacon of Tunnels and Trolls, because there are few now who do.

I don't want the game just to fade, but without fan support it just might do. T&T has always been bouyed by the community and when this no longer produces material then the game is at risk. Thankfully, Flying Buffalo are still putting out Kickstarters (Elven Lords, Vaults of K'horror, MSPE) and Ken is still writing (Mongoni Island, The Monster Maze of Zorr), but looking back over the past couple of years and support has been fairly minimal. This year so far there have been just two titles put out - my own Beneath Dark Elms and Ken's Mongoni Island. This time last year there had already been 8 products put out.

This is why I carry the torch. I'm passionate in helping to keep the game alive. As part of this, I'm announcing my upcoming T&T zine Phoenix. If you fancy contributing, please get in touch.

Art: Liz Danforth

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Venom Vegetation for S&W and T&T

Inspired by the current run of Flash Gordon Sundays at Comics Kingdom, here's the Venom Vegetation for S&W and T&T.

Venom Vegetation is a large plant with a huge gaping maw. Unlike most plants, this one feasts on unwary adventurers who become ensnared by a particularly devious trap. The plant cast an illusionary image in the mind of its victims of a person they desire. It then overloads the senses with a wonderful aroma, enough to make their victim approach the illusion and embrace it. Once embraced, the great jaws of the plant close over its prey, locking it in and digesting it.


AC 14 (5)
SV 12
Atk Special
MV 0'
Special: The Venom Vegetation casts charm person three times per day. If successful, the victim moves into the centre of the plant to embrace the illusion, before the jaws clamp shut. The victim takes 1d8 damage per round from the acid swilling around in their prison.


MR 64
Dice 7d6+32
Armour 4 (natural)
Special ability: The Venom Vegetation can create an illusion three times per day. The target must make a L2SR-IQ or become charmed, falling under the control of the plant. Thr victim moves into the centre of the plant to embrace the illusion, before the jaws clamp shut. The victim takes 2d6 Con damage per round from the acid swilling around in their prison. Armour is only half as effective.

The Venom Vegetation cannot attack in a conventional sense.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Taking a look at Fours! 3d augmented printing by Ken St. Andre

Since I did my previous post about Fours!, the latest game from legend Ken St. Andre, the trollgod has released two more iterations building on his initial design.

As a reminder, Fours! was born from a conversation Ken had with John Wick about the minimum rules a game needs to be a functional RPG (the name question I asked myself before writing In Darkest Warrens). What he ended up with was a card-based generic system that totally works, but I did have trouble with some of the probabilities. Namely that it was fairly difficult to succeed.

The 3d edition has been slightly revamped and some extra bits bolted on by other writers. While three of the main stats have remained the same, Intangibles is now Resources (although the character sheet still reads Intangibles). The mysterious Avatar class has been replaced by Scientist, who now gets a +4 to smarts instead of Wizards, who now get a +4 to health. I'm not entirely sure on the reasoning here. With a super lite game, you have to rely on tropes to help build more information in the minds of players, so classes and stats should be familiar. I don't know why wizards should now get additional health. I'm not sure why scientist was the best replacement, but I suppose in a medieval setting you'd call it an alchemist or some variation.

I don't want to teach Ken to suck eggs - he's a far better designer than me, but I'd have perhaps had power, resources, smarts and spirit, with health being static, but each class getting its own bonus to health. Spirit would be force of will, resolve and magic, and useful for wizards.

I really appreciate Ken writing a short piece in the document about failing forward. He's obviously recognised that failure is more common than success and has made it a feature of the game. That's a very Ken thing to do. There are also some example spells and science examples (science is a lot like magic in Fours! very Arthur C Clarke), which are also a welcome addition. The edition also includes a random adventure ingredient generator, which I like.

I really like Fours! It's a breezy game that I think could be built out more and ironed out, but it really hits that lite sweet spot I like. I particularly love the advice that Ken gives about using the deck to determine the chances of anything being a reality in the game world. The example he gives is a player wanting to buy a drink and having to pull their suit to determine whether they actually have the money to pay for it. This really allows for some great emergent roleplaying opportunities.

Before I sign off, here's my Fours! character.

Red Tonya
Warrior (clubs)
Power 10
Smarts 3
Resources 1
Health 6

Stuff: Scimitar, rope, mail, dirk, map, torch.
The most important thing about this character is that she can both swash and buckle.

Pay what you want for Fours!

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Why Tunnels and Trolls is so important to roleplaying

I'm not going to say that it's a crime that Tunnels and Trolls isn't more popular, but it's a damned shame. What makes it worse is that it's one of the most important roleplaying games ever conceived and a work of genius. Why? Let me tell you.

The year is 1974 and two visionaries - Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson give metaphorical birth to a highly unusual game. But for some, Dungeons and Dragons was overly complex and relied a bit too much on its wargaming heritage. One of these people was Ken St. Andre, a Phoenix librarian without a background in miniatures gaming, but a healthy love of science fiction, fantasy and comic books. Ken loved the idea of a roleplaying game, but didn't like D&D's execution, so in 1975 he released his own version. Originally Tunnels and Troglodytes, Tunnels and Trolls was arguably the second roleplaying game on the market (it gets a bit hazy here because Empire of the Petal Throne was self-published in 1974 and released by TSR in 1975 - but this was still based on D&D rules).

T&T re-invented what the roleplaying game could be. Instead of tables, funny dice and complex rules, Ken created a ruleset for himself and his friends that felt a world away from D&D. He introduced a universal mechanic in the saving roll that could be applied to any situation. The Monster Rating invention allowed GMs to create monsters on the fly with just one number and some imagination, and the stripped back class system was much simpler than in D&D. T&T was indie before indie was a thing.

While D&D became more rules-heavy through subsequent editions, T&T remained refreshingly simple, which was partly due to Ken's ethos of wanting to make a game that the players can own. T&T has always been about empowering players to create their own rules in their own worlds - a mentality that has become much more prevalent in the indie gaming scene more recently. My own home game probably isn't the same as Ken's or Steve Crompton's or whoever. Mine are a splice of 5th, 7.5, Deluxe and my own ideas. There are few games that remain as maleable.

I can't go on without talking about the humour instrinsic in T&T. The first edition was nothing like D&D's. It was sprinkled with in-jokes, cartoons and an informal tone. It wasn't to the same professional standard as the other game, having being typed up and 100 copies created, mainly for friends. Granted, there are some dubious things written in the 1st edition, and the spell name Yassa Massa is infamous in T&T circles, but this approach solidified the game as one that you didn't have to take too seriously. Unfortunately, some of the silly spell names have held the game back from gamers who are probably a bit too po faced, but it was this kind of design mentality that immediately set it apart from competitors (plus, I've always thought magic missile was dull as dishwater, while Take That, You Fiend was far more evocative. I can see a curmudgeonly wizard booming the latter). There's something in the game that makes it feel incredibly light at the tabletop, that encourages a creativity I've not seen in any other game. My own players will attest to this. Maybe it's because characters are a little more throwaway, being so quick to create, so it's not such a huge deal if they die. But maybe it's that perfect mix of easy rules and humour that brings out the best in people at the table.

I'm not trying to say that one game is better than the other - I'm a huge fan of early D&D editions, but D&D is having its time in the sun at the moment so I wanted to talk specifically about T&T. This is a game that had the biggest weapons table ever (jambiya and pilum, anyone?), a game that had solo play before Fighting Fantasy was a thing, a game where you can become a gremlin wizard, a game that cast away those wargaming shackles and forged a new path for roleplaying games forever.

Monday, 22 April 2019

The Cult of Unknown Knowns

Braskin Radle could never accept anything he was told. It began innocuously enough. His father, a cow farmer, explained to his ruddy-cheeked offspring where milk came from, but Braskin couldn't believe this were the case. A delicious drink coming from one of those dumb animals - absolutely ludicrous. No, milk surely came from a milk spring in the ground, Braskin hypothesised.

Now at 34, Braskin is a much bigger thinker. Birds were created by the king to sprinkle a magic dust onto the populace to keep them placid. The blue sky was obviously the backside of a mega dragon, with rain being its...toilet. The king isn't even real - he's a troll in disguise. Once branded the village fool, Braskin found himself with a following. He'd talk about his theories in taverns and some people latched onto his way of thinking. Yes, it seems far more plausible that the sky is a dragon's arse.

It began as a small meeting group. A handful of humans, dwarves and a couple of elves came together in a pub back room to talk about how the world was probably no more than a week old and they were living in some kind of time loop. As more people became interested the group grew into 50 people, all of whom venerated Braskin. He named them The Society of Unknown Knowns and through the donations he was recieving built a reservation in the country just for them. He figured that they were the only people he could trust, so living with them made sense.

One day, a dwarf called Groggin referred to Braskin as the High Wod, a corruption of 'word', and the name caught on. Braskin told them that modern clothing was made to control their minds, so they all wore clothes made of leaves.

It was 4 years until Braskin hit on his most brilliant realisation yet. That he and his society didn't actually exist. They had never existed. But it was their duty to be brought into existence in what he called The Grand Birthening. The society nodded in unison and asked for a blessing. "How do we become born?" Groggin asked.

"Ah, well, that's tricky," said Braskin. "But I'm pretty sure it involves speaking to a god.

"Right," replied the dwarf, "And how do we do that?"

"Oh, erm," the High Wod thought for a moment. "Well, to get a god's attention we'd need to do something big. Something drastic," a smile crept over his face. "We have to kill the king and drink his blood, I reckon."

"Blimey, very good, your worship."

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Celebrating Basic 5th Edition rules

I'm a big fan of 5e D&D. It's a fantastic ruleset, but it still has some unnecessary bloat (for me) that has been prevalent in the editions since 1e. However, I do think the free Basic rules are the best version of the 5th edition rules. Sure, you don't get the customisation of the main rules, but I'm old school - customisation is for the birds. Give me a dwarf with a hammer and I'll have a great time.

So I'm going to celebrate Basic 5e in some of my blog posts (I also enjoy the term O5R). This is all about using the free ruleset for everything. Classes are Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard. Races are Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. All those extra rules in the core books - tossed out. You don't need them. You've got 6 backgrounds, too. That's plenty of customisation without getting bogged down.

There's the added bonus that Basic 5e is free, but unlike a starter set takes you all the way to level 20. If you wanted to spice up your game with free, official settings, then why not have a look at the Magic the Gathering settings Wizards put out? All free to download, adding new elements to your basic game. You could play a campaign for years just using this ruleset and a setting.

Friday, 12 April 2019

James Smith has passed away

I woke up to some incredibly sad news today that James Smith of the Dreams of Mythic Fantasy blog has passed away at the young age of 50.

I didn't know James well, but we chatted online occasionally and I was always thankful when he mentioned me and my work on his superb weekly OSR ñews roundup.

You can read the official announcement here.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Quiet roleplaying

Quiet roleplaying, or perhaps slow roleplaying, is something I've been thinking about lately. Often games can move a breakneck speeds, players go from one location to the next, hack up some bad dudes and find the treasure. It's a tried and tested playstyle that works. Some people enjoy gonzo elements, where their world is a little (or a lot) crazy. Some prefer high fantasy with bright shining towers, marauding orc hordes and sky-surfing wizards. Others enjoy a dungeon-running campaign full of tricks and traps.

While I enjoy all of the above, I'm putting forward an argument for quiet, introspective roleplaying. Rather than just being a style of play, it's a genre in itself. Quiet roleplaying focuses far less on combat and more on journeying through environments, uncovering the lost histories of place. It's a session spent around a campfire, allowing characters to bloom in conversation. Monsters may exist, but they are unique and rarely pure evil. They are more likely to guard places of meaning rather than locations filled with treasure. The King of Foxes guards the forest of his ancestors. Magic is low and subtle. No fireballs, but a flicker of flame from a finger. Magic users are a rarity, but they inspire awe.

Quiet roleplaying takes inspiration from celtic folklore. Omens come in threes, a magical item is unique and truly wonderful, swans become maidens.

Players won't be going on quests to save a kingdom. They will be making good with a local god, bringing water to a village in drought, finding a way to exorcise a phantom.

The GM should be asking the players how their characters feel about a given situation. Ask them to add elements to the world. What animals are around? Who do they see on the road?

Here is a list of elements in summary:

- Journeys and environmental hazards
- Introspection - with prompts by the GM
- Little combat
- Human centric
- Low magic
- Celtic folklore
- Exploring history of place
- Low treasure
- Places have meaning outside of the material
- Omens
- Sessions based in a single location
- Wilderness, not palaces
- Monsters are unique and unlikely evil

For some, this play style won't sound like much fun. It's not balls to the wall fantasy, but I think there's a place for the quieter side of roleplaying, the slowplay.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Beneath Dark Elms (T&T) out now

I'm happy to announce that my latest GM adventure for Tunnels and Trolls is out now in pdf. Beneath Dark Elms is a low level forest romp where things might not be as they seem. Includes cover art by the wonderful Simon Lee Tranter.

(GMs will see what I mean. It's a different set up to the usual adventure and I don't want to ruin it.)

It's £4 over at DriveThrurpg.

"Fixing" missile combat in Tunnels and Trolls

Image: The archer by Bonie Varghese

Tunnels and Trolls has a lot going for it, but one of the more confounding elements has ever been the use of missile weapons in combat. Each edition has its own version of how pelting monsters with arrows should work and you can see why it's tricky based on the fact T&T combat is abstract.

For me, the closest rule that makes sense is in 5th edition. Player makes a Dex roll against a specific creature. If it hits, the damage occurs no matter what side wins the round. However, missiles do not count towards the HPT. I can get on board with this - the advantage of being an archer is that you can stay in cover and snipe off monsters. The disadvantage is that you have to roll to see if you hit in the first place.

In 7th edition, your missile attack counted towards the party's HPT if they make their Dec roll, which makes archers incredibly potent - too potent, and in Deluxe, well, things get even wackier by having missiles contribute to the HPT even if they DON'T succeed their Dex roll. This means if two sides of archers shoot one another and all miss, one side will inevitably take damage. Nope.

So here's the Trollish Delver method:

- Ranged combatants make a Dex SR based on distance and opponent size as usual.

- If they succeed the roll, they roll their weapon dice. This will come straight off the monster's MR or Con, armour absorbing, regardless of which side wins the round. This does not contribute towards HPT.

- The opponent makes a Luck SR based on the archer's Dex (or MR) divided by 10, rounded up (so against an archer with 23 Dex, they would roll a L2 Luck SR). If they succeed, they take half damage from the hit.

- An archer can make a missile attack as normal against a creature not engaged in melee. If they are engaged in melee, the SR to hit is increased by a level.

- An archer may choose to 'steady their hand'. This decreases the Dex SR they need by one level (to a minimum of 1) but halves damage dealt on a hit.

- If an archer is met in melee combat, they can fire point blank, but they would also take the full damage the attacking creature rolled.

- In a solo adventure, missile combat can be used  prior to the first round of combat before the opponent attacks. The opponent doesn't get a Luck SR. The range is always considered to be point blank (L1SR).

Hopefully this helps make missile combat a little more even.

Friday, 22 March 2019

How to get started with Tunnels and Trolls

If you're new to the tabletop roleplaying hobby or have only played D&D, you may not have heard of Tunnels & Trolls. It's a shame, really, considering T&T was so ahead of its time on release, being the second roleplaying game to be published. Ultimately, T&T is a simplified roleplaying game that uses just six-sided dice rather than the usual mix of polyhedrons.

Tunnels & Trolls, created by Ken St. Andre and published by Flying Buffalo, is now in its eight incarnation and the game's still going strong with fan support. Today I wanted to talk a little about what T&T is and how you can start playing.

How is Tunnels & Trolls different to Dungeons & Dragons?

T&T might have the alliterative ampersanding title that matches its closest rival, but the game is anything but similar. For one, it's much simpler to play, owing to its universal saving roll mechanic. While it seems old hat now, the T&T saving roll was revolutionary - a universal roll for anything you want to do. A saving roll isn't the same as a D&D 'save' - it's more like a check, but can also be used as a save. Roll 2d6 plus your attribute to hit a target number (i.e. 20 for a first level check). Much simpler than having several types of saves and percentiles for abilities.

Combat is the other major difference, and man is it different. In T&T, combat is abstract. All players roll their characters' combat dice and the GM does the same for monsters. The side with the highest total wins, doing damage equal to the difference of both rolls. It's mind-shatteringly simple and it's a lot of fun. No, it's not as balanced as D&D. Nothing about T&T is balanced, but it's fun as hell.

Finally, the third big difference is the number of classes and races, which are called types and kindred in T&T. In fifth edition, there are three key types - wizard, warrior and rogue. A rogue is not a sneaky thief - it's a rogue wizard with fighting ability and limited spellcasting. In later editions there are different additions here, including ranger and paragon, but ultimately they do all boil down to these three types. Kindred, however and super varied. The key kindred are human, elf, dwarf, hobb, leprechaun and fairy, but there are loads more including minotaur, vampire, uruk, troll and even dragon. As I say, balance isn't really a thing in T&T.

What edition do I start with?

Both D&D and T&T have a wide number of editions and 'in between' editions to select from. The first edition is pretty rough and ready, but I'd argue it's easier to get into than original D&D, but I've not met many people who still play this edition. Generally, people are split into three camps: fifth, seventh and Deluxe (eighth).

Fifth edition is a fan favourite. Released in 1979, two years before D&D's B/X edition, fifth edition cemented what T&T is and has barely changed since. It's a simple, rules-lite game with the 'death spiral' combat rules, meaning opponents lose their dice as their get injured, leading them to become weaker as the fight progresses.

Seventh edition is pretty much the same, but with a few rules tweaks and no more death spiral. Deluxe is essentially the master version of the rules, with lots of bolt on rules should you want it, but it's all optional. In effect, each of these editions are pretty much compatible with one another.

As a new player, I would start with 5th edition to get your feet wet. It's inexpensive to buy in PDF form and won't take you long to read cover to cover.

What about published adventures? 

I'm not going to pretend that T&T has anywhere near the adventure output of D&D, but it does have its own unique take on adventures. Here are some of the classics of the game:

However, where T&T really shines is in its range of solo modules. That is, ones that you play on your own without a GM. There are more solo modules than GM ones, which probably gives you an indication as to the types of gamers T&T players are. Most of these are tough and you'll likely go through several characters before you best them. Here are some classics:

  • Naked Doom
  • Arena of Khazan
  • Blue Frog Tavern
  • Sword for Hire
  • Gamesmen of Kasar (a personal favourite of mine)
  • Mistywood
  • Deathtrap Equalizer

There are many, many more recent additions by some fantastic writers, and they're never particularly expensive. 

How can I get started right now?

If you're super impatient and want to get to playing in minutes, MetaArcade have a Tunnels & Trolls Adventures app where you can play a solid catalogue of solo adventures, including some of the classics I mentioned above. Just create your character and dive in. 

Setting: Little Spout

Art: Valeriya Volkova

Little Spout is an impossibility colourful village, where each resident wears bright primary colours crafted from the dye of the jib jib fruit. Little Spout rests in a humid region where the rainy season lasts for months on end. Food markets hang over the edge of waterways, where the only access to purchase is by canoe.


The villagers

Most villagers are human, but live to 130 years old on average, making it an elderly population. They speak the language Papo, which was given to them by the clouds. Some notable villagers include:

  • Farsi the powder shaman: covers naked body in bright powder to more easily commune with sky spirits. She fears the spirits are no longer talking to her. They need an offering of a basilisk's eye.
  • Pun the silent: a mute guard. Skin like leather. Has seen graverobbers around the ancient boa monument.
  • Helia the cook: always seen in front of a bed-sized frying pan. Needs swarri spice for the rain festival. This can be found in the surrounding jungle where the lion people live.
  • Tok the mudkisser: kisses the ground every hour to venerate the earth, as Tok's family has done every generation. Wants to marry Farsi but needs a bunbun fruit from the tallest tree on mount ketha.

Magical items

  • Love locket: embossed with a hand in the clouds. Anyone who touches one holding the locket has a 20% of falling for them.
  • Boa tattoo: covering the back or full arm. Grants the strength of a boa (+2 to strength based activities and damage).
  • Frog amulet: little jade frog. Allows the wearer to become a frog once per day. Lasts for 2 hours or until cancelled.
  • Fermented jib jib: wrinkly yellow fruit. Pungent. Heals disease instantly.


  • Lion people (Khoola): HD3, AC4(15), SV12, MV9, Atk spear (1d8), AL N, Special Poison (Save vs poison/1d4 extra damage). Lion-headed humanoids. Green fur. Territorial.
  • Shade demons: HD4, AC5(14), SV11, MV18, Atk claws (1d8+1), AL C, Special Shade (AC3,[16] at night). Appear on moonless nights. Lanterns lit to stave off. They take hearts.
  • Gargamo: HD7, AC4(15), SV7, MV8, Atk Two bites (2d8), AL C, Special Engulf (Save vs engulf/1d8 per round until saved). Giant reptile with bird beak. Resides in mountains. Bathes in mud pools. Beak made into a drug.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Tourism in fantasy roleplaying

I've been watching a lot of shows where people travel the world with a certain gimmick (by train, without using flights). It got me thinking about tourism in ye olde fantasy games.

The way I see it, you'd get some specialist tourism businesses. Jungle guides, desert exploration, mountaineering and 'extreme tourism' - descending into ancient dungeons for a real 'hero experience'.

Vindardum's Wild Dungeon Adventures

Ever wanted to be a real adventurer? To experience the wonders and dangers that real heroes face on a daily basis? Ever wanted to explore the ancient world beneath your feet? Vindardum invites you to an experience you will never forget.

For just 2000gp, you will spend three days delving into the most incredible ancient dungeons alongside trained adventurers who will guide you into the darkness. Discover treasures, new creatures and immerse yourself in history like never before.

Please note that while Vindardum makes safety the main priority, the nature of descending into dungeons is dangerous.

The Red Lion Jungle Company

The steaming jungles of Kathawalla are among the most beautiful places in the world, which is why the Red Lion Jungle Company is here to guide you through it. For just 1000gp, you will stay in a jungle tree hut with waiter service, a three course dinner and tours of some of the most amazing areas of the jungle.

Your tour guides will be fully trained in navigation and combat to ensure you have a fun, safe journey in the wild.

You can see areas becoming tourism hotspots. Whole economies fed by the coin of what are essentially holidaymakers. PCs could make some sweet coin signing up to help with these operations.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Solo report: The Beetle

Occasionally I like to run a solo game. It allows me to play rulesets I've never had chance to look at and I can do it all on my own time.

Today I ran the upcoming edition of Romance of the Perilous Land using my own simple hacked up solo rules that I call Solo Cubes. It uses a d6 as an oracle, offering answers to questions (yes, yes but, no and etc). Anytime you get a 'but' or 'and', roll three Storycubes and interpret. I also use a raft of random tables to give me names, towns, items and more.

I rolled up a barbarian, Brec, at level 2. He's an artisan, worshipper of Cernunnos, and Escose native (far, far north). He was approached by a renowned merchant called Erynn who was going to travel to Orofaise to the south west. He was making a delivery of a special suit of armour to Dindraine, daughter of the king and hunter of the Questing Beast. Problem is, Erynn believed that thieves were watching him and would take the armour. Berc agreed to accompany him for 100gp, but Erynn stipulated that should they get list, Brec would get nothing.

On a frosty morn they set off on a 6 day journey to the city. On the first night they had no need to camp as they found a highland inn in which to rest. The inn was actually the meeting place for a group of cunning folk - all members of the Fellowship of Enchanters - a group in league with King Arthur and Merlin. The host was gracious and even supplied a (weak) potion for Brec's journey. They told him that brigands weren't really dangers in these parts - a recent crackdown had seen many arrested. Bless those Escose guards.

After bidding the friendly wizards farewell, the duo made their way past an ancient watchtower. Brec halted when he spotted tracks leading up to the tower. He identified them as Pech tracks - gnome-like creatures who blend heather to make strength potions. This was an ancient race not to be trifled with. "We should watch our backs," warned the barbarian, "A band of Pech would make short work of us." (These are HD4 beasties with a pretty ferocious attack - even one would be tough for Brec).

Shortly after they spotted a man fleeing across a bridge. Behind him were four Pech, hungry for blood. The two ducked behind cover. Brec felt guilty, but they would surely all be killed if they tried to intervene. Unfortunately, while three chased the fellow off, one Pech remained to guard the bridge. Not good.

"We mean you no harm," Brec said gently. He would try to charm his way across (not a bad cha 12 for a barbarian). He even rolled fairly well.
"The sorcerers," said the squat, bulky creature, "I will let you cross if you slay them." He was obviously talking about the cunning folk at the inn. There was no chance Brec would do that. Drawing his longsword, he leapt at the creature with a battle roar, rage in his eyes. The scrap was bloody and eventually Brec fell unconscious.

Brec woke up in a soft bed, a bearded man looking over him. He was back at the inn. The cunning folk had scared the Pech away and taken him in for the night. Thankfully Erynn was there too. Brec owed his lives to the fellowship and would see them repaid in one way or another.

The bridge was now overrun with Pech, so they had to find another way. Brec knew of a route through an abandoned town, a derelict victim to the dragonwar. It was 7 hours out of the way, but he didn't fancy another fight with multiple Pech.

The burned out town was eerily silent, but Berc could see nobody following them. They made good time through the town and decided to camp in the ruins. That night, when Berc was keeping watch, he spotted several people moving in the shadows. "Show yourselves," he boomed. Three leather-clad men with blades drawn stepped into the moonlight. "The armour," one said. Berc smirked and launched at them. The first was instantly decapitated while the others put up more of a fight. Blades danced, clashing in the silent air. The next fell, gutted by the barbarian longsword. The last threw down his blade. "Who sent you?" Brec cried, his blade at the assailant's throat.
"The Beetle," he stuttered. Brec came to regret what he did next. With a flash, the final assassin was dropped. "This armour better be worth it, merchant."

The proceeding days were uneventful, travelling the wilderness. In the final days they found a camp. It had been wrecked and blood was everywhere. A wolf feasted on a body, but soon padded away. "They could be in league with this Beetle," Erynn said. Brec nodded. "Not doing much now though." He spotted a locked chest. Smashing it open he found a metal moon ornament. Suddenly he could hear whispers and voices and soon realised that he was hearing the animals around him. "This could be useful," he said, stuffing it in his pack.

"You shouldn't steal," came a voice. A masked figure had entered the camp. He was dressed in black and the mask was pure white. His armour resembled a scarab.

"So you're the famous Beetle," Brec scoffed. The figure nodded before twirling his blade and charging the barbarian. Brec deftly dodged the blow and went into a full rage. He struck the assassin in the chest and sunk his blade inside. "We won't stop," the Beetle coughed, "Mordred sends his regards." His body flopped to the ground.

The rest of the journey went without issue and they arrived in Orofaise in tact. Erynn paid Brec the agreed money and went on his way.

Brec remembered his time with the wizards and reflected on his own place in the world. He hadn't thought much about the doings of Camelot up in Escose, but clearly these were dark times. Perhaps he now had a purpose. Maybe Camelot should be his next destination.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Celebrating 10 years of Trollish Delver

I'm happy to be celebrating a decade of this blog today. Over the last 10 years Trollish Delver has grown from a dedicated T&T resource to a small press publisher just shy of 1,000,000 visits.

So it's time for a bit of naval gazing, so I hope you'll indulge me for a bit while I do so.

March 2009 - I was in my third year of university. I'd already been playing roleplaying games for years at this point, but Tunnels and Trolls was a bit of a new discovery for me. Getting involved in the community after a chat with Ken St Andre and Tom K Loney spurred me on to start Trollish Delver. I figure I could talk about T&T solos, rules and make up some of my own shit.

After graduating, I eventually formed a gaming group with old and new friends where we played the brand spanking new 4th edition of D&D. This gave me fuel for more gaming subjects, broader than just T&T.

I always wanted to experiment with the blog, with subjects I covered. I'd go onto talk about comics, videogames, boardgames and nerd adjacent stuff, but the posts that resonated with people were the RPG ones. I also realised that I wanted to try my hand at design.

In March 2011 I published my first pdf adventure for T&T - Forest of the Treelords over on Lulu. This was followed by solo Depths of the Devilmancer. They're both fine - clearly amateur, but fun. But I wanted to continue making game items. Well, I wanted to make a game.

This happened in February 2012 when I set the first iteration USR into the wild to download on 1km1kt. It was pretty well recieved, but I knew not a whole lot of people would be playing it, so I set up on DriveThrurpg as Trollish Delver Games and published USR, along with Depths. This is when things started to get serious for me.

Fast forward to 2019, after 1261 blog posts, an award, 50,000 publication downloads, several freelancing credits and my first big publisher book on its way, I consider Trollish Delver to be a successful endeavour. But even more importantly, I've made some great friends along the way who have helped and inspired me to keep posting and keep writing books.
So I just wanted to say a big thank you for all of you who have read Trollish Delver from the beginning, and those who have joined me along the way. Here's to another 10 years of creation.

What I love about: 4th edition

I consider myself an OSR chap, but today I wanted to take a look at the oft maligned Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. Specifically, the stuff on really like about it. Onwards with the heresy.

Encounter building
Look - I don't believe that every combat should be balanced for the players. That said, 4e makes it super easy to put together appropriate (or inappropriate) fights. Everything just slots together nicely. Minions add some cinematic flavour to combat, with one hit kills and the roles allowed for a multitude of monster types.

Attack variety
While I do think that all the utility, daily, encounter and at-will powers were ultimately too much, I love the way that they make every class feel powerful and exciting. I don't hate bards using charisma for attacks, I really don't. You're never just thwacking away with your sword. I feel Gamma World got it right with just a few powrrs. If I were to clone 4e, I'd use GW as a template.

Simple rules
Going from 3rd edition to 4th, you can see how much effort they made refining and making the rules clearer. The 3e books are dense, with small type and easy-to-miss rules. 4e is formatted much more clearly and got refined some of the more confusing elements of 3e.

Stat blocks
Having everything you as a DM need in a stat block is time saving gold. There's no looking up spell lists - the mechanics are right there for you to use. I can't tell you how much of a relief this was when I first took 4e to the table.

Casters a relevant at low levels
Time was that you had a squishy as hell caster that would shoot off a couple of spells and be done for the day (I'm not against this - I'm an OSR chap, remember). In 4e casters could do awesome things every combat, casting rituals that don't run out. For those new to the game, this made much more sense than Mr Vance nicking your only spell for the day.

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Monday, 25 February 2019

Hedgemen of the Bramble

You have been walking this wood for some time. In a clearing you are greeted by Tomnick, of the Hedgemen Spineguard - a race of humanoid hedgehogs.

He sees that you are weary and takes you to the burrow, a maze of chambers, a city of soil. The berries are sweet here and they clear your head. Tomnick says they will help you see in the dark.

The Castidors are the protectors of the royal quill and upholders of the underlaw. They wear sparrow beaks as necklaces. Their gods are fearful.

Dellylane mixes potions from tree gum, owl blood and pollen. She can no longer fetch the dandelion needed for her tinctures for the toadstool people have stowed them.

You are seated on a feather cushion before the Grand Hog. She is high from nettle smoke and her lovers have all fallen asleep. When the full moon rises she must leave the burrow for the last time and make her trek to the lake where she must perish, as is the holy rite. She requires champions to accompany her.

Their tapestries depict the foxwars. The vizier says the foxes have returned, led by a new king. Their guild, The Tooth and Claw Society will descend swiftly and quietly. They will leave none alive.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Dungeon Nights dev diary

I've been working solidly on Dungeon Nights since I put the 'lite' version on the blog. I originally kind of just wanted to expand the lite rules slightly and make a nice pdf but things have changed. I've ended up expanding the game considerably because I've kind of fallen in love with it.

Avanor. That's the baked in setting that's referenced throughout. There's no setting section. Instead I've drizzled setting into the rules. You get an inkling of who the Shadow Seven are, and how powerful the three Great Mages might be. You know that different cultures have different mounts - Thorish tend to use giant moles as transportation, while Frigos use riding bears. It's kind of apparent that Vennans drink lots of wine. Gnomes are made of pure magic but nobody really knows why - it's up to the group.

Class specials have been expanded too. All classes have at least three of them. They can build strongholds, fortresses, guilds, temples and towers at higher level. Thieves actually do sneak damage. Clerics can turn undead.

Even more, mercenaries can be acquired, there's advanced combat rules, languages also have dialects (78 combinations of language and dialect - speaking glade dune means desert elf language. Gloam gob is night goblin), there's more magic, weapons do varied damage, there are proficiencies and journey tag rules have been introduced.

In other words, it's much fatter. It's a bit B/X with some OD&D but mostly new. Completely compatible with OSR adventures. The only reason I'm not writing an adventure with it is for this reason - there's a tonne already out there.

It's pretty much there now. I'm currently tackling spells - there's a tonne more than in the lite version but a bit fewer than Swords and Wizardry. Any add ons to it will probably be short, punchy pdfs.

Anyway, I'm excited to show you the new Dungeon Nights.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

OSR monster: Shingran

The Shingran is unlike any creature you've faced before on your adventures. For starters it has no material form - it exists only when imagined. Once imagined, it will seep into the material world and hunt those who imagined it to the death. Just reading a description or seeing an image is enough to develop a Shingran in the mind. Once the seed is planted it takes 1d4 hours to 'gestate' before appearing within 3d6x10ft of the imaginer. Once someone has seen a Shingran, they must save vs spells or another Shingran appears. There can be up to 10 creatures appear at one time in this way. While I'm loathe to describe the creature to you I will begrudgingly give you some keywords to help: slavering, bone, eyes, cat-like, tendrils, jaws, carapace.

AC 14 (5)
MV: 30'
ATK: Tendrils (d8) or Bite (d6)
SAVE: As W6 (or 10)
SPECIAL: Mind Gestation

Friday, 22 February 2019

B/X is the favourite D&D edition among gamers

Earlier this week I ran a poll on Mewe asking people to vote on their favourite edition of Dungeons and Dragons. While I know the sample size is too low to be anything near representative (45 entries), the survey did indicate that B/X is the crowning jewel of D&D.

A majority (40%) of respondents were all about B/X by Tom Moldvay and David Cook, a revision released in 1981 as a standalone game that ran alongside the AD&D line at the time.

Coming in second, 20% said 5th edition was their most loved version - an intergenerational favourite from Wizards of the Coast that stripped back the 4e clutter and went back to basics.

AD&D 1e garnered 15% of the vote, making it the third most popular edition, followed by OD&D with 11%.

The editions recieving the fewest votes were 4th and 3rd edition, which both got 0%, whereas 3.5, BECMI and Holmes Basic were just 2%.

What's your favourite edition?

Thursday, 21 February 2019

What did your character think of the session?

Art: Harry Quinn
Character development isn't something D&D is designed for outside of gaining experience points and acquiring new skills, nor should it do.

But it's called roleplaying for a reason and it's good every now and again to take part in some naval gazing to help understand your character. So here's an exercise to try.

At the end of the session, as a GM, ask your players "what did your characters think to that session?" Go around the table and ask each player to answer. Doesn't have to be long, but it should help develop character in bitesize chunks. It helps solidify a character in the player's mind. It reminds them that they're playing a role and has them engage a little more with the game.

Or don't. Whatever.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Dungeon Nights redux

Ok, so I accidentally created a new game earlier. I didn't mean to - it sort of just happened.

Since then I've been building on Dungeon Nights into something that can be a downloadable PDF with art and stuff. There are a few design decisions I've made to set it apart from other OSR games on the market:

- Journey Tag system makes travel interesting for the players
- Cultures and races form the backbone of a character
- A baked in setting so it's not just a set of rules

I've ironed out some specifics and expanded on the rules. I've made good head way so Dungeon Nights should be out soon.

Free OSR game: Dungeon Nights

Dungeon Nights is a fast and dirty old school adventure game, powered by fuzzy riffs and fizzy drinks. It's designed to scratch the traditional fantasy itch when you can't be arsed with anything else. It's a light mish-mash of old school and new school thinking, but probably not for beginners.

So grab some dice, paper and some mates and have at it.

Character creation

- roll your attributes
- choose a culture (gain culture bonuses)
- choose a race (gain race bonus)
- choose a class
- roll your hit die plus your Con bonus to figure your HP
- Your AC begins at 10 plus your Dex bonus
- Begin with 1d6x10 gold

Strength: Bashing doors, lifting heavy items, swimming, hitting with swords, climbing walls.
Dexterity: Sneaking, vaulting walls, disarming traps, dodging fireballs.
Wisdom: Religious insights, spotting hidden things, willpower, common sense.
Intelligence: Knowing facts, understanding mechanisms, recognising monsters, keeping lucid.
Constitution: Staving off damage, taking a beating, surviving without food.
Charisma: Entertaining, persuading, leading, lying.

Roll 3d6 for each. Less than 7 is a -1, 8-10 is ,+0, 11-14 is +1, 15-17 is +2, 18-20 is +3.

Tags: Cultures and classes have certain tags to help you get a flavour for the character you're creating. Use as many or as few of these tags as you like to help inspire your character.


Stone Culture (Thorish)
Tags: Proud, Loyal, Traditional
Common races: Dwarf, Halfling, Orc
+1 to Str or Con/ -1 to Dex or Cha
You can see in the dark
You have a 1 in 3 chance of being able to tell the history of an underground structure.

Sea Culture (Venna)
Tags: Adventurous, Open minded, Talkative
Common races: Human, Elf, Gnome
+1 to Dex or Cha/ -1 to Con or Int
You can sail boats
1 in 4 chance of being able to circumnavigate waters

Desert Culture (Al Hadar)
Tags: Curious, Welcoming, Organised
Common races: Human, Dwarf, Gnome
+1 to Wis or Con/ -1 to Str or Dex
You can go 2 days without needing water
You have a 1 in 3 chance of recognising poison from the smell

Night Culture (Gloam)
Tags: Meticulous, Honourable, Quiet
Common races: Elf, Halfling, Orc
+1 to Dex or Cha/-1 to Wis or Con
Gain a +2 when attempting to use stealth
You can see in the dark

Forest Culture (Arboran)
Tags: Cautious, Theatrical, Empathic
Common races: Elf, Human, Gnome
+1 to Dex or Int/ -1 to Cha or Str
Gain +2 when attempting to climb
You have a 4 in 6 chance of circumnavigating a forest or wood

Frost Culture (Frigos)
Tags: Solemn, Resilient, Resourceful
Common races: Human, Dwarf, Orc
+1 to Con or Dex/ -1 to Cha or Wis
You do not need cold weather furs in extreme cold
Gain a +2 to Con saves


Select one race.

Move 25/ +1 Int
Move 20/ +1 Str
Move 30/ +1 Wis
Move 20/+1 Dex
Move 20/ +1 Cha
Move 25/ +1 Con


Tags: Precise, Brave, Deadly, Grizzled
Hit Dice: d6+1 per level
Saving Throw target: 15 (reduces by 1 per level until level 9)
Special: +1 to attacks per level until level 6.

Tags: Savage, Tough, Traveller, Ostracized
Hit Dice: d8 per level
Saving Throw target: 14 (reduces by 1 per level until level 9)
Special: Rage - Once per combat, gain + 1d4 to damage rolls for 3 rounds.

Tags: Holy, Vengeful, Patient, Courageous
Hit Dice: d6 per level
Saving throw target: 16 (reduces by 1 per level until level 8)
Special: Can use prayers. +1 prayer per level up to a max of 8 prayer slots. Start with 1 prayer slot.

Tags: Shady, Connected, Misunderstood, Careful
Hit Dice: d6 per level
Saving Throw target: 14 (reduces by 1 per level until level 9)
Special: Gain a +1 bonus to picking locks, picking pockets and disarming traps.

Magic user
Tags: Esoteric, Curious, Scatterbrained, Surprising
Hit Dice: d4+1 per level
Saving Throw target: 17 (reduces by 1 per level until level 10)
Special: Can cast Arcane spells. +1 spell slot per level up to a max of 10 spell slots. Start with 2 spell slots.

Levelling up:
-Roll your Hit Die and add the result to your HP.
-Reduce your saving throw target
-Roll d20 per attribute. If you roll under the attribute +1 to it.
- Level caps off at 20.

Melee or ranged weapon (d6 damage) - 10 gp
Superior melee or ranged weapon (+1 attack, d6 damage) - 100 gp
Ammo X10 - 3 gp

(Each armour has a max Dex. bonus. This is the most benefit a character would get from their Dex bonus to AC)

Cloth (+1 AC, max Dex NA) 10gp
Leather (+2 AC, max Dex bonus +3) 50gp
Chain (+3 AC, max Dex bonus +2) 120gp
Plate (+4 AC, max Dex bonus +1) 600gp
Mithril (+4 AC, max Dex bonus +2) 2000gp


- all players roll 1d6 for initiative. 4+, they go before the opponent.
- combat is done in 6 second rounds. A round is over when everyone has had a turn.
- characters may move and attack or move and cast a spell on their turn. They can do any other action that takes 3 seconds in place of either moving or attacking.
- to attack: roll d20 + Str (melee) or Dex (ranged). If equal to or higher than opponent's AC, do weapon damage
- the DM should modify combat as she wishes (i.e. offering +2 AC to a character hiding behind a low wall).

Tests: Whenever you want to try something that could fail roll d20 + attribute. Targets: Easy 5, Medium 10, Hard 15, Ridiculous 20. If you are testing yourself against another creature, have a roll off. The highest roll succeeds. Example: Sneaking past a guard will be a roll off between the sneaker's Dex and the guard's Wis.

Saving throws: Saves are tied to attributes. Whenever you are in danger and need to make a save, roll d20 and add the relevent attribute bonus. If you roll equal to or higher than your class saving throw target, you have succeeded.

Spellcasting and Prayers

Magic users and clerics can use magic in the form of spells and prayers. Spells and prayers use up slots based on their level (i.e. a 1st level spell uses 1 slot, a 2nd level spell uses 2 slots etc). Magic users and clerics may only use spells or prayers of their level of below. For example, a magic user of level 5 could use a fireball and a magic missile.

Arcane spells must be memorised at the beginning of the day before they can be used. Prayers must be prayed for at the beginning of the day to be used.

Cleric prayers
Lv. 1. Heal: Restore +1d6 +1 per Wis bonus HP to you or another person
Lv. 2 Bless: Grant someone a +1 per Wis bonus to attacks until their next turn.
Lv. 3 Blast Undead: d4 undead creatures take 1d6 damage within 50ft.
Lv. 4 Stop Undead: d4 undead creatures cannot move for 18 seconds.
Lv. 4 Invigorate: d4 creatures within 50ft gain +1 per Wis bonus to saves for 30 seconds.
Lv 5 Raise Dead: Restore a dead creature to life. They return with HP equal to cleric Wis bonus. They cannot have been dead for longer than 3 days.

Arcane spells
Lv 1 Acid spray: Do damage equal to Intelligence bonus to a creature within 50ft
Lv 1 Light: Create a 30x30ft sphere of light
Lv 2 Magic missile: Do 1d6 damage to a creature within 50ft.
Lv 2 Barrier: Increase the AC of a creature within 30ft by 2 for 24 seconds.
Lv 3 Fireball: Do 2d6 damage to d4 creatures within 50ft. Creatures may not be more than 10ft away from each other. Dex save to halve damage based on Magic user's Int attribute as the target.
Lv 3 Teleport: Instantly appear 100ft away.
Lv 4 Illusion: Create a convincing illusion of a creature or structure. It can move and make sound.
Lv 4 Freeze: 1d4 creatures within 30ft are unable to act for 12 seconds unless they succeed a Str save with the magic user's Int attribute as the target.
Lv 5 Vorpal weapon: a weapon within 50ft gains a +1d6 bonus to damage for 24 seconds.
Lv 5 Fly: You or a creature within 30ft can fly for up to 1 minute.

Bestiary example

HD: The number of dice rolled to work out HP
Attack: includes their attack bonus and damage. X/X indicates more than one attack per turn.
Saving Throw target: the creature rolls d20+ HD whenever they need to save.
Move: Number of feet able to move per turn.
Special: an ability the creature has.

HD: 1 (1d6 HP)
AC: 11
Attack: Sword +0 (d6 damage)
Saving Throw target: 17
Move: 25
Special: None

HD: 2 (2d6 HP)
AC: 13
Attack: Mace +2 (d6 damage)
Saving Throw target: 15
Move: 20
Special: Anyone trying to intimidate an orc takes a -2 to the roll.

HD: 4 (4d6 HP)
AC: 15
Attack: Club +4/+4 (d6 damage)
Saving Throw target: 14
Move: 20
Special: Trolls can camouflage as boulders. Other creatures must succeed a medium Wis test to spot that a boulder is a troll.

HD: 10 (10d6)
AC: 18
Attack: Bite/Tail/Tail +7/+7/+7 (d6 damage) or Fire Breath (3d6 damage - see Special)
Move: 20 (fly 30)
Special: Breathe fire, affecting 1d4 creatures within 60ft. Dex save halves damage.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Moving forward with the OSR

Let's get one thing clear: Zak is not the OSR. Though nobody can deny the impact and influence he's had on the OSR, this is in the past. I've seen some people proclaim that the OSR is now essentially dead in the water. That innovation is over and it's time to move on.

I simply don't believe this is true.

The community is as important as it's ever been. It's as innovative as its ever been. Look at Luka Rejec's Ultraviolet Grasslands (Exalted Funeral Press) and tell me that's not an exciting slice of fried gold. Look at Black Pudding (Random Order Creations). This year Romance of the Perilous Land will be the first OSR game from Osprey Games, owned by Bloomsbury.

The imminent closure of Google Plus has ignited a resurgence in the blogosphere. Without a centralised community, we've become nomadic, moving from blog to blog conversing, challenging and celebrating. This is a visionary community, one that will move forward with positivity. There are thoroughly decent people doing thoroughly decent things and this should continue.

Not only will the OSR survive - it will thrive.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

An argument for cultures instead of race in roleplaying

Image: Wizards of the Coast

Alexis at the Tao of D&D recently wrote about D&Ds propensity, particularly in 5e, to force identity onto a PC through what essentially amounts to 'race fluff'. This got me thinking about why culture is a favourable alternative to race in games.

Race is a loaded term and in roleplaying games it tends to put you in a box. As an elf you're more sensitive towards nature, you're more musical or whatever. As a dwarf you dislike elves, you can recognise underground masonry etc. God forbid you come across a goblin trying to parley because your Paladin's having none of it. Goblin equals evil bad thing to be killed. Essentially, things tend to get racist.

I'd argue that culture is a better alternative to race. Culture covers traditions, customs, language and heritage without having to hang onto a particular race. An elf could be integrated into dwarf culture. They're still an elf, but they may not have anything to do with typical elf culture. This is a simple way of looking at it, but it still sort of talks race. Let's take it one step further.

The Tharesh culture are historically miners. While Tharesh started mainly as dwarves, die to trade and travel the Tharesh count many humans and gnomes among their numbers. Growing up in this culture, people are more likely to be sympathetic to rocks, understand the value of precious minerals and know the great lays of Udrick of the Great Pick. Mechanical bonuses can apply to these, but they're never predicated on race.

Taking it further still. Your gnome bard had grown up in Tharesh culture, but has since moved to the warmer southern climes to Dwilt, integrating into Al Tal'hu culture. This is a seafaring culture of all races, many of whom worship Venhara, the sea goddess, and many have traditionally grown vineyards, so they understand well the southern wines. Here we see a patchwork culture - our gnome has heritage as Tharesh, but it interweaves with Al Tal'hu. This could mean taking some aspects of both cultures mechanically.

Races are static, but culture is ever flowing. Characters could pick up aspects of cultures as they travel around - whatever resonates with them. Pathfinder 2e changed race to ancestry, but this is simply a difference in words. Culture still has room for racial heritage - but this can be as important as the player wants it to be.

Why the Genesys system is a great storytelling tool

Image: Fantasy Flight Games
Around three months ago my group decided to kick off a game of Edge of the Empire, with myself at the GM helm. For those unfamiliar, Edge of the Empire is a Star Wars roleplaying game from Fantasy Flight, now one of three variations that focus on a specific Star Wars theme, albeit with the same core system called Genesys. EotE is all about smuggling, roguery and netting a big payday even if you have to break the law.

Regular readers will know that our game for the past four or so years has been Pathfinder. We love Pathfinder for its tactical combat and granular character creation, but we decided that, after a stint with PF2, we should try something else. Being big Star Wars fans, we wanted to give Fantasy Flight a shot to wow us with their system. We knew we weren't going to get the crunch of PF (fine by me) but with the vast array of races and character types in the galaxy the players should still get a good character creation experience.

We're now three sessions into our second adventure, Beyond the Rim, and I'm happy to report that we're having a great ride. The system is built from the ground up for cinematic gameplay, which took us a bit to get used to at first. It's full on theater of the mind, rather than the prolonged miniatures combat we're used to. The dice are configured in a way that outcomes are never binary, but have degrees of success and failure, with even big wins having the potential to carry what the game calls 'threats' - which is where things can go wrong. Ultimately the system aids am emergent storytelling experience. Because outcomes can swing in so many directions, the GM or group can determine how the story is affected. Couple this with light side and dark side points, which can be used by the players and GM to add new elements to the game, what you have is a rich system that facilitates cooperation between players and GM in coming up with all kinds of story curve balls and plot points. Take a short encounter from last week's game. The players were being stalked in the jungle by a ferocious nexu (think a four-eyed tiger with a massive mouth). The nexu pounced on one of the PCs, rolling a success to hit, but a couple of threats. This meant something was going to go a tad wrong for the beast. We all decided that the PC had managed to grab it and hold it towards another PC, who would gain a bonus die in order to help him try shoot the nexu. It worked - the nexu's brains went everywhere. Afterwards, the players realised that it was getting dark and they were in a jungle without supplies. They had previously tried and failed to make torches from rags and tree sap, leaving them vulnerable to night prowlers. One of the players spent a light side point to basically change the game world by saying that nexu blood is known to be a tad flammable. They soaked some rags, wrapped them around some branches and created a couple of torches.

This is a really small example, but it illustrates how the Genesys system operates. It facilitates a story that can unfold in multiple directions. Sure, the strange dice take some getting used to and fans of crunch may be left wanting, but for that cinematic feel Genesys is a great choice of game.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Let's talk about how incredible Break!!! looks

Break!!! could well be the most beautiful game not yet released. I've been following the game's development since the designers began blogging about the creation process in mid 2014, seeing it blossom like a pink candy rose into what looks to be a sumptuous anime-inspired experience.

Those breezy pastel brush strokes are courtesy of Grey Wizard, a phenomenal artist whose style evokes fantasy manga by way of the NES. Mr Wizard is one half of the talented Break!!! team, whose scribe is Reynaldo Madrinan, though both take design duties on the game.

Looking at the sample pages the team has blogged, you'll notice its ruthless design efficiency. This is a manual designed to help readers learn to play, littered with helpful markers, keys and uncluttered layouts. It's the best pathfinding I've seen in a roleplaying book so far. It looks like a videogame and boardgame manual had a child.

Break!!! sits somewhere in the modern fantasy genre. Races include the cat-like Rai-Neko, the 'perfect' Promethean, and the orcish Bruun, while players can also take on the roles of blue collar workers, retail workers and desk jockeys. I'm not super into anime, but dear lord does this game interest me. Following the game's development, you'll see how much of a labour of love Break!!! is. Recent pictures show dabblings with a die-cut 3d world map. It's gorgeous, as everything I've seen in the game has been.

Needless to say, I'm waiting with bated breath for Break!!!. 

Images property of Grey Wizard and Reynaldo Madrinan. Used with permission.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The arrival of The Thin Priests

The following is a concept for my upcoming game Blackmace.

Our lady of perpetual sickness, the matron of buboes, the queen of filth. Her rusted scythe carved the Pit where she resides with her Broken Horde. Worshipped by the Fetid Gorgers, so named for their proclivity to devour diseased flesh in wretched festivals. Her Flayed Knights, stinking of corpse grease, emerge from swamp ichor, screaming into unlife, hunting warm bodies to glut on the scarlet wine of their meat vessels. These are but frontline soldiers of her eternal war on the living - a war she will inevitably win through the atrophy of time.

Disease is her purview. Cities fall and civilisations crumble under the spread of rot. The Fetid Gorgers crow mockingly as the serfs are instructed, with the din of a tin bell, to bring out their dead. Ravens pick at bloody sinew.

 The Thin Priests arrive, swinging pink clouded incense on creaking chains, their faces hidden by pallid masks. Suddenly blades gleam in flickering torchlight, a gorger head rolls into the gutter. The Thin Priests don't speak - rapid taps on their breastplates signal their next move. Tok tok tok. The ravens launch into the night. Gorgers disperse, finding black nooks in which to crawl spiderlike, their crooked speech becoming rasping whispers.

Dawn arrives with the hymn of the thrush. The Thin Priests have long since moved on.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Taking a look at Fours, a new minimalist RPG from Ken St. Andre

It's been a while. Time for the first post of 2019.

So, yeah, Ken St. Andre has released a new game. He dropped this sneaky whisper of a PDF onto DriveThrurpg, the rogue. It's called Fours and it's a super minimalist game that spawned from Ken's conversation with John Wick around how few rules a game can have to be still considered a roleplaying game. Let's dig in!

First off - the cover was designed by Gilead (presumably not of Handmaid's Tale fame). It's a Danforth-esque line drawing of a warrior lady. Pretty nice stuff. Nothing fancy, but I suppose it's minimalist.

Characters have four attributes: smarts, intangibles, power and health. They also have a class and basically a list of stuff the GM agrees they're allowed to have with them.

Classes are Thief, Warrior, Avatar (demigods who don't know they're demigods) and Wizard, with only the latter two able to use magic. Each is linked with a card suit and character creation uses random card numbers to get your attributes, with bonuses depending on your class.

I don't want to give too much away with the rules otherwise I'll end up writing the full game out, but conflict is pretty interesting, working on either a success/fail basis by picking a random card - if it's your suit then you succeed; or a struggle/compare basis where cards are compared, added to attributes and the highest wins. Aces are critical successes and deuces are catastrophic failures. In combat, the lowest total is deducted from the highest to get amount of damage done. Interesting system, but I'm not too sold on being only able to succeed 25% of the time on average. This is also how magic works - the caster freeforms it by saying an effect and they have to pick a card matching their suit.

Otherwise everything else is GM fiat, but the GM must respect the outcome of the cards.

So it seems that Fours was a bit of an experiment in minimalism, which I'm totally on board with having created In Darkest Warrens, Wired Neon Cities and Shatter6 to basically answer the same question Wick posed to Ken. I'm intrigued, but maybe not enough to play it. Still, I have the feeling that the system is (ironically) begging to be fleshed out into something bigger.

You can pay what you want for the Fours pdf.