Showing posts with label Old School Essentials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Old School Essentials. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

How Ability Rolls Came to My Table

Even dusty old thieves   
are cool.
It's been a bit since I posted, so let's have an update. The counter to the right displays 25 days or 209 if you jumped into Old School Essentials' Kickstarter. I find myself putting stuff away lately rather than reading or gaming, which obviously decreases my post count. 

In my last post, I talked about table trouble. This one could have been called "Theif Envy", but the concepts are one and the same and tie back to OSE. 

I used to alternate between D&D and Star Frontiers campaigns (links go to DriveThruRPG). The idea of rolling against a skill is baked into Star Frontiers but is an add-on to D&D. Thieves have an array of skills that no one else has. Sure races have percentage skills for detecting doors and sloped passages, but a dwarven Thief character is like no other. 

It makes other class players envy those skills. 

Now I actually remember when the idea of rolling for certain actions came to my table. The party was at the last door in the dungeon and had plenty of warnings that the exit door would be trapped. The Thief took the lead and easily detected the dart trap in the oversized, dragon-shaped door handle. Then THE PLAYER got cocky. 

"I'll detect for poison!" he shouted. 

"You found some!" I shouted back. 

It was too good to pass up. I made him roll against his constitution score. He failed and was paralyzed. The party escaped, dragging the butt hurt Thief behind them, but as they closed the door on the dungeon, I could not close the door on "ability rolls". 

Oh, man. What a can of worms. Not because it's hard, but because it's so easy. Like being pelted with dice. 

Perversion is too many die rolls
in a role-playing game.

"I'll roll for this..."

"And I'll roll for that..." 

The one thing that could have stopped this from happening was a simple and clear acknowledgment of the player's humor vs. the character's intent. There was no way that character was that stupid. Or funny for that matter. Every other social encounter this character and player had was decidedly taciturn or even sour. 

I shouldn't have let it happen, but I happen to like this style of play... To a degree.

If a character needs to do something that can be described easily and doesn't invoke any sort of fantastic ability, the die roll itself is suspect. As much as some people can be funny like the aforementioned thief, some people's reactions to situations can be just as good. 

When the player of the Fighter hears a threat from an opponent and puts on their game face, the perfect, bone-crushing game face, he or she shouldn't roll for anything. They are not intimidated and perhaps turnabout happens where the mouthy NPC has all of his buddies fail a morale check right from the start, leaving the Fighter and the Mouth to work it out. 

You see how that's different, right? A morale check is hardcoded into the rules. But an ability check isn't. What would I have a Fighter roll against for bone-crushing aggressiveness? 

No idea. 

In all cases, I believe the characters should be able to do whatever they want when they want. It might not work out, but you know, I let them try. Unless someone proposes a task that maps directly to an ability score, I don't want the roll. 

A trivial example is leaping on or off horses. I'm not rolling for that because 99.99999% of the time, the action is merely flashy and not necessary. The times when it's necessary, eating a face full of dirt is better than what would happen. 

A not-so-trivial example is when the party or player comes up with the perfect plan, one that seems to have no flaws or problems and is delivered with confidence and flair? So long as all of their assumptions are correct, what is a roll going to do to improve the situation? 

Nothing at all. 

I can give a hysterical example of not rolling. I had a Magic User with a fly spell that he used all of the time. He got his hands on a ring of delusion, which he believed was a ring of flying. 

"Oh, shit," muttered the rest of the party. 

In talking this out with the DM, we decided that it was really a ring of double delusion. Not only did my character believe it was a ring of flying he would also be deluded into forgetting that he cast a fly spell to make it work. So the ring appeared to be a ring of inconsistent flying. 

This was preferable to making a saving throw against the ring's influence. We kept track with a token, when I cast my one and only fly spell or invoked the ring's power, I handed over the token to the DM. Without the token, any attempt to fly would fail, usually with disastrous results. 

My character would suggest ariel solutions to every problem even if it wasn't reasonable to fly at all. Again, this is a ring of delusion after all. 

In Old School Essentials, you generally have a 1 or 2 in 6 chance of pulling some random activity for a skill that isn't quantified. That's a great compromise because usually, these events don't map at all to a skill. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Old-School Essentials Fantasy RPG Box Sets - Kickstarter

I've been sidelined by real-life lately, but I had an alarm set for this Kickstarter project. This one is the Old-School Essentials Fantasy RPG Box Set. I missed it the first time around a few years back but managed to score just one book from one of my favorite local gaming stores, Iron Buffalo Games. 



As much as I wanted to go all-in on this Kickstarter project, I had to limit myself to the $100 level. If this set is anything like the last set, it's going to be excellent! 


I love the digest size of these books. They have a nice solid feel with a good text size for my aging eyes. Having picked up some of the PDFs, I knew that a physical book would frame the artwork better than any home-printed copy. 

This post reminds me, I must review the OSE Rule Tome, Iron Buffalo Games, and my new HP Printer. I'll be looking to post on those in the near future, as real-life permits. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Antiquity Tuesday - Coinage and Brilliant Minds - February 13th

I've always wanted to write about the subject of coinage in D&D, but haven't had time to do the research until recently. And not half the research I wanted to do. 

But from what I have, I can lead with the chart from the e1 PHB:


If you are playing a game based on D&D, this chart should be familiar to you in some form or another. Two weeks ago, I wrote about what a Roman soldier would carry and got into the coin-based encumbrance system. That led to a follow-up post from Ian Borchardt on Mewe that he graciously allowed me to post here. And this morning, I spotted a post from Stephen Wendell about "Holmes on a Coin’s Weight", which covers a realistic treatment of the mass of coins. 

OSR style games really went out of their way to make a system that while idealized, is actually excellent enough to hold up for decades and decades. It's actually amazing. 

But what about Antiquity Tuesday?

One of my favorite historical personages is Diocletian. He lived from 242ish to 311ish and brought about the Crisis of the Third Century. Yes, the 3rd Century was chaotic enough that we don't know the exact years. Whole books exist about the Crisis of the Third Century, but one of the crises was the triple problems of coins, inflation, and prices. And Diocletian actually failed to fix it. But he tried. And it was a hell of a try. 

Just like in AD&D, he decided the issue could be resolved with a simplified system of just 5 coins. The system was based on a silver coin worth 100 denarii. There is some variability in these values and please forgive me, but I don't trust this table in name or values. Take it as a guideline: 

aureus 1,200 denarii 
argenteus  100 denarii
nummus (a silver-washed coin) 25 denarii 
bronze radiate 4 or 5 denarii 
copper laureate 2 denarii 

What is interesting about this order or valuation is that bronze appears as a valuable metal. Both brass and bronze are alloys of copper, and that meant that bronze age implements had an innate value due to the material that they were made of. 

When compared to the AD&D valuation, we still have five coins, but electrum and platinum appear on Mr. Gygax's list. Electrum is an alloy of silver and gold which would have been more valuable than just silver and platinum wasn't discovered by Europeans before the 1600s. They may have known about it but it wasn't described until it was discovered in the New World. 

What I find wonderful about these two lists is that both are meant to be simply used. And they are perfectly logical for the system each is attached to. 

Unfortunately, Diocletian was unable to resolve Roman's economic problems, which were many. After he reformed the coinage, he call back tons, literally tons of old coins and replaced them with new ones. The Romans understood market forces, a lack drove up prices, and a dearth dropped them. What they didn't get was the variable value of coins themselves. To a Roman, a coin was a coin, was a coin. 

I bought my first PBH for $9. Used. 
This replacement was priced $15 and
I actually paid $50ish. Uhh. Inflation.

Parallel to this, Romans understood the dangers of debasement which is why Diocletian replaced so many coins. And this was also the very reason that other emperors debased coins in secret. They knew it was playing with fire. And Diocletian believed he fixed it but he didn't call back nearly enough coins to fix a centuries-old problem. 

But this was not lost on Mr. Gygax, debased coins or washed coins show up a couple of times in modules like B2 Keep on the Borderlands

A possible explanation for this lack of vision on Diocletian and every other emperor who monkeyed with the coin system was the hands-off nature of minor transactions. Roman grew in both space and time. Diocletian was trying to fix hundreds of years of bad coins on top of not seeing the effects of how Romans used coins on a day-to-day basis. As regions were absorbed into the Empire, so was their coinage. Who cared if people bought bread with denarii-based coins or some old copper from a defeated enemy? A coin was a coin. Fixed and constant. 

He had no idea what a battle he was fighting. But Diocletian didn't accept the failure of logic or reason. He decided that the actual problem was the merchants. Those evil little price gougers were running up the prices. So he tried to put a stop to it. He penned the "Edictum de Pretiis Rerum Venalium" or "Edict Concerning the Sale Price of Goods" or when we are placing blame, "The Edict of Diocletian". 

This is one of those seminal works, like the Domesday Book. It is a list of maximum prices allowed for 1200 goods or services in denarii communes or "common coins". Unsurprisingly, it looks suspiciously similar to a gamer: 


Brilliant minds work alike. This is a totally workable system... except Diocletian had to abandon his because it simply didn't work in his world, unlike Mr. Gygax who built from the ground up. If only Diocletian could have wiped the slate clean, I bet his system would have worked as well as Mr. Gygax's. 

What is awesome about Diocletian's cataloging of items is it reveals how people in antiquity thought. We know the Romans like to have 8 soldiers together carrying 3 pilums or 3 caltrops. But when it came to quills, they wanted to have a set of 4 in a leather box. We also know that most wines were of the same value when fresh, but worth somewhat less as they age. What is notably missing from Diocletian's list is weapons. No one bought a weapon, they paid for the services of an armorer who made weapons. Oddly, sharpening a sword, an axe, and a spear appears under several different categories of services. There is a difference in the task depending on the object. 

It really is amazing that someone would think of such a system several different times for completely different purposes. For the Romans, it was life and death. For us, it's a game. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Session 2 - Bounty on the Beach and a Ghoulish Discovery

Session two covered two days, which brings us to the 3rd day on the island. We break off from the action at midday of day 3. 

The party rested up uneventfully the first night and is trying to figure out what to do next. Not having horses has them hamstrung. They have too much equipment to carry and some of it like the saddles is pointless to take along with them. Bartholomew, Masha, Alex, and the two sailors are charged with determining what will go and what will stay. 

While they are busy with that, the rest of the party splits up into two teams, red and blue. Red Team is the Cleric Garven and William the Ranger. Alice the Elf, Rolf the Fighter, and Gerwinder the Paladin make up Blue Team. They decide to ditch most of their gear and set out exploring to the south by two different routes. 

And much to my embarrassment, I realized that I accidentally set up the party on the map of Sardinia, not Corsica. I scrolled too far south. Oh... I'll just roll with it.  

Each small hex is 1.2 miles and the weather is good. It's been cloudy and warm for winter, in the 60s (or 16° C). Since this map is based on a real place, I have simply been looking at the real weather in Palau, Sardinia. Why reinvent the wheel?  

Red Team moves to the grasslands at a slow pace. On the way south, they encounter nothing. Blue Team moves down the beach and onto the grasslands. The blue team has an animal encounter right away. They notice two strange-looking donkeys or mules following them. They are unable to approach them too closely but determine they must be some sort of feral ponies. 

On the way home, Red Team encounters Ezekiel the warhorse. The animal can speak to humans but is rather closed-lipped about how he got there. As the two teams return to camp, an odd thing happens. The feral ponies start to follow Ezekiel. The warhorse advises the Paladin that there is a herd of ponies and he has been trying to avoid the beasts since he got here. 

That of course begs the question of how he got here. 

Ezekiel tells the party that the horse sling fell overboard as the sailors tried to take it down. Two sailors went in the water with it. The horse jumped in to rescue them. Having done his duty honorably, he was annoyed when the men walked off northwest. 

Back at camp, everyone greets their newest adventurer. Bartholomew and the sailors are super excited to see the extra pack animals and tried to lasso one of the ponies. The thief took a kick to the chest for his trouble. 

While Garvin quickly ministers Barth's chest injury, Alex, Alice and William assess the ponies. They are too small to ride and too skittish to capture. It's an odd standoff as the ponies seem to be attracted to Ezekiel but too scared to approach the adventurers. 

The party settles in for night two on the island, no further along than when they landed. But they discover quite a few things about each other. It turns out that both sailors were rowers elevated to seamen. Sammy likes to fish and the George likes to whittle. They were leading the mules because neither is very adept at seamanship, yet. 

Ezekiel shares that the other two sailors took off towards the northwest. Gerwinder explains that the horse is being literally accurate. The last time the horse saw them, they probably walked exactly direction up the beach. 

Alex discovers that Sammy and Alice can sing and the music brings the ponies closer. Alice was able to toss some fruit at them and they tolerated it. Once to food was gone and the music stopped, they retreated. They hope the routine will tame the ponies, but they have their doubts. 

The day three plan has the party moving westward and then south. It wasn't the plan, but the two missing sailors are without food and water. Also, the party has more food than they can easily carry. The Ranger and Theif want to hang it in a tree. They can see the foliage of shrubs and small trees to the southwest. They'll be moving pretty slowly due to the load, but if they can find the other sailors, they can share their supplies and load. If not, they'll cache the extra food. 

I am using the item-based encumbrance tracker for OSE. The party is trying to tote their personal gear, two tents, and 24 saddlebags full of extra food and supplies. I've decided that each individual saddlebag is a little smaller than a backpack so two together are about the size of 1 and 1/2 backpacks. Each mule can carry 4 or one of the tents. Ezekiel can carry two saddlebags and a rider. 

Before setting out, they fill the rowboat with the saddles, extra baggage cover it with the tent, and rope it down. The sailors were great at this. 

They have 24 saddlebags. The equines are carrying 10, the two sailors are carrying 4. That leaves 10 extra bags. They leave the remainder at the campsite with the intention of reaching the stand of trees and shrubs by midday. This should leave time for them to cache some food in a tree and return for the rest. However, the party is of the opinion they may not want to or have to. 

They make it 3.5 of the 5 miles to the shrublands before trouble occurs. William spots footprints leading south. He gleans that two men passed through the area at a run. The terrain is undulating, so they don't see anyone in the distance even though it's grasslands. 

In a low spot, Ezekiel freezes and Misha lets out a shout of warning before unleashing a magic missile. Five men are approaching from behind the party, the magic missile strikes the first to little effect. Alice, Barth, and Alex pull their bows and step in front of Misha. The sailors form a second barrier between Misha and the attackers. The 4 fighter types have to turn around and rush back to defend the rear of the party, with Gerwinder and Ezekiel looping wide to avoid missile fire. 

In the first round, a flurry of arrows and missiles hits three of the men, but none drop. They are approaching fast. Misha and Barth with the two sailors start backpedaling. Alice advances with Rolf, Alex, Garvin and, William. The Paladin is just out of striking range. 

In the second round, the Paladin surges forward and slashes one of the men. As one, they turn on her. As the party rushes to her aid she yells out, "Ghouls!" Since all of the ghouls have attacked, the party runs straight into them. They down 3 ghouls as the horse stands over Gerwinder. 


Round three starts in a tie for the initiative. Alice barks, "Get back!" but no one listens. Alex and Barth have moved to each side hoping to angle an arrow into the ghouls next round. Everyone gets hit. All of the ghouls are down, but Rolf flops to the ground paralyzed moments after the last ghoul falls. 


Bartholomew makes an executive decision and unloads the tent mule so that Rolf and Gerwinder can be carried to the shrublands. He will stand guard over it with Alice. Once the party makes camp, they can come back for them. Garvin the Cleric makes only one change to this declaration, he will also stay with the Theif and Elf. 

This brings us to midday of day 3. We'll pick back up next session. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Antiquity Tuesday - Guest Post by IAN BORCHARDT

This week, I would like to welcome my first guest poster, Ian Borchardt. I have annotated this post with some images for clarity. Also, my thoughts are in italics. I managed to keep my commentary to a minimum, which is also for clarity. This post came about as a MeWe response to last week's Antiquity Tuesday and Ian has graciously allowed me to use his response for the Blog. 

Thank you, Ian. And thank you readers. 

A legionary conturbium after the Marian reforms consists of eight soldiers, two slaves, and a mule. The items required to set up the camp were shared amongst the conturbium, which was the lowest indivisible group of Roman troops for that reason. Thus they were often assigned duties together. The two slaves and mule stayed at camp, so were often ignored in accounting for the components of a century. Thus you have the strange situation of a "100" only having 80 soldiers. The military slaves/servants (servus) made up the other 20 since they also had to be fed. Camp and the baggage therein was a pretty important part of military life, hopefully, kept separate from battles. Until you lost.

Tents highlighted in yellow, 1 per conturbium.
Image from http://www.trajans-column.org. 

Unlike D&D the legionary didn't fight whilst carrying this load. The two advantages of the furca, or carrying pole, was that you could wear armour whilst using it to carry goods and that it could easily be dropped if you were ambushed en route so that you were unencumbered in a fight. And you could carry the three pilums along with it fairly easily.

Ian's Icon

The furca continued to be a very convenient way to carry baggage for a long time (cf my icon, for example). The alternatives tended to be large wicker baskets and porter's trunks, which are not readily shed and more often used for carrying heavy loads. Slinging loads were poles was pretty common.

Wonderful inventions, poles. Although not very useful in a dungeon, but then any sensible legionary would have left the bulk of his gear back in the camp before they went exploring a dungeon.

The loculus, or goatskin satchel, was made from a single goatskin because that was the only way to keep it pretty watertight (as far as the rain was concerned). They were not particularly large as a result. It generally held the few personal possessions of the legionary. This and the other gear of the sarcina were carried in baskets or nets slung from the furca. Including food supplies and tools. All readily discardable in an ambush.

Loculus details from Trajan's column. 
Image from Wikipedia.

Most legionary food was prepared normally, and locally sourced. Again supplies were delivered to the conturbium as a whole to be prepared for all of its members by its members. This was fairly standard for most armies up to the 18th Century. technically the locals, if neutral or friendly, were given scrip for any supplies that were "requisitioned," but the ability to redeem that scrip depended on the local tracators. Iron rations were never really a thing until the 17th Century when you could determine an army was thinking of going to war because cheese and sausage were suddenly impossible to get for love and money (food that could easily be eaten cold). Most military preserved rations still needed cooking, even if they had a longish shelf-life and could be easily be transported. For example, salted food needs to be soaked to remove a lot of the brine before being prepared.

Next week, I will be trying out a recipe for Roman Hardtack from Pass the Garum, a food history website. As the recipe only has 4 ingredients, hardtack was probably invented and reinvented a zillion times over as a way to preserve the wheat harvest for lean times. (Edit - this has been canceled due to my daughter's Birthday Party. We will properly have cake instead.)

I also base my encumbrance rules on the Roman legionary but tend to consider armour as the primary encumbering item for determining movement rate. The next question is asking what you are doing with your hands, which I often find to be a more useful question to ask when you are carrying stuff than the weight of a thing. 

In many regards this is similar to RQ1/2 method of measuring encumbrance in the amount of things. The last question is the weight of what is being carried, which is the strength requirement. Usually such loads are self-encumbering from step two: what is he doing with his hands? Strength really only comes into it when they are trying to lift a specific load.

And I much prefer using Constitution in these matters, not least because it is the characteristic most associated in my game with the Peasant Caste.

Ian has saved me a post on Old School Essentials encumbrance rules. OSE has an item based encumbrance system which trades mass and weight for an item/bundle system which is intuitive and easy to use.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Antiquity Tuesday - The Sarcina Revisited

Back in September of 2021, I wrote about the sarcina as an alternative to a backpack. It's a stick carried over the shoulder by a Roman legionary. The sarcina came into its own around 107 BC, when the statesman Gaius Marius pushed for a professional paid army for the Republic. And it's been around ever since. 

Marius's goal was to eliminate the dependency of the army on a baggage train. To this end, all carts, and wagons were eschewed except when absolutely necessary. The average Roman soldier didn't travel by horse, they walked and carried everything they needed on their backs. While the Marian Reforms meant to eliminate the baggage train, it did not eliminate horses and sometimes the troops used donkeys or mules for support. 

Being that every rule has an exception, there was the Legio X Equestris, or 10th Mounted Legion which did travel by horse. In a strange case of history rhyming without repeating, there exists the 10th Mountain Division. Based out of New York, the 10th specializes in mountain warfare and makes limited use of vehicles and equipment like artillery. Being specialized in moving troops and equipment without support places the 10th at the forefront of humanitarian deployments. 

While I'm revisiting the sarcina, I want to compare what a Roman soldier would carry to what a D&D character would have. 

A soldier would have his sandal-like boots, leg wraps, a tunic, a cloak, a scarf, lorica type armor, a gladius or short sword, a dagger, a shield, and a bag to carry it, a helmet, and possibly some darts or pilums or caltrops, plus his sarcina. For some reason, when it came to darts, pilums, wolves, and caltrops, they were carried in threes.  

From that list, we can remove all of the clothing which is normal and customary. That leaves the following list (with weights) for soldiers in combat: 

Shield 100 cns or 10 lbs
Lorica 200 cns or 20 lbs
Gladius 30 cns or 3 lbs
Dagger 10 cns or 1 lbs
Helmet 0 probably counted with the armor
Darts 10 each or 1 lbs
or Pilum 20 each or 2 lbs

D&D seems to get these weights correct most of the time. No one thing would have a standard weight as they would scale to the wearer. A lorica is typically 11 kg or 22 lbs, which almost matches the list. So a Roman soldier would be carrying about 37 or so pounds in a combat setting. Where D&D slides is in the armor types slowing the base rate of movement down. The Romans ability to move and to maneuver was pretty much the gold standard in antiquity until they met eastern forces like the Huns and Seleucids. Armor wasn't much of a factor in speed of movement. 

But this essay is about the carrying capacity of a sarcina. So what is in one? A lot: 

satchel 20 cns or 2 lbs
cloak bag 20 cns or 2 lbs
shield bag 30 cns or 3 lbs
spare tunic 10 cns or 1 lbs
a pot 10 cns or 1 lbs
a mess kit (called patera) 10 cns or 1 lbs
a bag with 3 days of food 60 cns or 6 lbs.
iron rations 
a bedroll 70 cns or 7 lbs
a pickaxe 100 cns or 10 lbs
a turf cutter 70 cns or 7 lbs
a saw 50 cns or 5 lbs
a sickle 10 cns or 1 lbs
3 wolves (a type of spike) 15 cns or 1.5 lbs
a basket 
a water container 20 cns or 2 lbs
tinder kit 10 cns or 1 lbs
toiletries 
personal effects 

Some of these items have an unclear weight or mass. A basket would have been wicker and those weigh next to nothing. Toiletries and personal effects were probably less than 50 cns or 5 lbs all combined.  It's attested that those with too many toiletries or personal effects were roundly mocked by hardcore soldiers. Before Marius, some soldiers had a slave (or if you prefer, a worker with a job and no pay) in tow just to rub, perfume and oil a soldier before and after combat.  

The iron rations were a lamentable and dubious item. Bucellatum, as the Romans called it was hardly edible. Losing a tooth to the biscuit was a common war wound. Soldiers were actually called bucellarii or "biscuit eaters". Let's call it 2 lbs. or 20 cns.  

There are a couple of standout items on that list. The bags were made of leather or hide and heavy. They provided some structure to the sarcina so they were also necessary. 

All told, without the mysterious items without weights, the average Legionary was packing 50 lbs or 500 cns in the sarcina plus the 37 pounds of weapons and armor. Surprisingly, that is in the realm of what modern soldier carries on a good to a great day. 

What is interesting about that list is what is missing. The Romans had a great road system with mile markers. They also knew the lay of their own land. This meant that they didn't remotely carry as much water as a modern soldier. So long as they weren't going the wrong direction, they knew where the next stream, spring or well was. In foreign lands, they would have scouts looking for such things. 

The other thing that is missing from the list is a tent. The Romans had 8 or 10 man tents called a contubernium. There is no way for a man to carry one. Basically, they would set up camp with what they had and if necessary move the tents to the camp later. 

That sounds pretty poor, but if you think about what the sarcina is, it provides a solution. It's a pole with 3 different bags, a tunic, and a cloak. Two of them put together could be cobbled into a makeshift tent using the cloaks, shields, and bags. A Roman shield at its smallest is 2 feet by 3 feet and could be as big as 3 by 4 feet. The bag is bigger than that so the shield fits. While I wouldn't want to sleep in the snow with such a ramshackle tent, it's doable in three seasons. 

Now looking at a typical D&D character, they should be carrying just as much as a Roman soldier, but in a backpack. And judging by my players, they often don't carry that much by half. The players never think to bring a pickaxe, a turf cutter, a shield bag, or any of the other stuff a real person would need. Some of them think a 10-foot pole is ungainly. 

What I find amusing is, a lump of 1600 cns worth of gold is only about the size of a couple of two-liter bottles of pop. "Soda", to you demi-humans. That would totally fit in a backpack, but your spine would scream. This is another case of needing some other method to move something. Neither a sarcina nor backpack would help much in moving that much coin. 

This isn't to drag down the idea of coins to pounds for encumbrance, it actually proves the system works. And reasonably well. The flaw is in the idea that treasures would be limited to gold coins. I think everyone has had that campaign where the party ignores copper pieces because they aren't worth enough to pick up. 

The other thing is the dubious nature of iron rations.

But those are essays for another day. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Mapping Monday and Session 0 - Mark of Terminus

I ordered Into the Wild by Todd Leback aka Third Kingdom Games. I've really meant to use it sooner than now. Over the weekend, I rolled up some OSE characters and got brewing. 

I had to develop my own map, which is plenty large enough for a long series of play sessions. 

As per normal, the setting is my own, based on Rome. This is a rough map based on the island of Corsica (EDIT - no, it's not). The red hexes are 30-mile hexes, the sub hexes are six miles because I really have a rough time with scale. I am using Worldographer for the mapping and somehow botched my math. I'm no stranger to screwing up math. Corsica is 114 miles from north to south while this map shows it as over 150 miles. (EDIT - This is true, but I scrolled down too far on my map and I am looking at Sardinia, not Corsica. You can ignore the next sentence.) 

I think I goofed on the proportions of each hex, which per Worldographer is 46.18 tall by 40 wide. Still, I like it. It's based on the island of Corsica but is a fantasy version of it. So math can take a hike. 

The red hexes are an overlay created with my
DriveThruRPG offering, The Hex Pack.

The characters have a couple mission targets. Item one, restore the lost Western Marker of Terminus. Item two, map the region so as to find the best place to hunt rock seals. Third, it would be handy if sources of freshwater were known. 

Since this is a test mission, the characters have been dropped by a lembus, a ship type similar to a trireme. They are meant to carry men or cargo. This one is named the Zypher, however, at some point in the recent past, it was used for cattle. The party has been bothered by seasickness and the smell of cattle sparked a new secret name for the ship, "The Heifer". They hate it. 

The party will start on the northeastern point of the island. The party of 8 adventures is not the typical group having a paladin, a cleric of a different sect from the paladin and thief who annoys everyone by aggrandizing theft. The only thing the 8 agree on is they hate sea travel and want off the ship. 

The party's initial goal is to work their way down the eastern side of the island, with the Zypher popping in to check on them. They built a small hut at their landing point and will proceed south with only two pack mules in support. They do not have the supplies or capacity to climb mountains, so not every hex will be explored this time around. 

If the party is successful, they will meet the Zypher in a week or so on the southeastern point of the island. If unsuccessful, the Zypher will scout the coast looking for survivors. 

Wish them luck! 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review - Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Allelujah! I found a great title to start with, Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. 

I lost my 1e books and wanted a replacement. I know Necrotic Gnome has been threatening me with a Kickstarter of physical books, but I couldn't wait for a printed copy. I ordered both the Player's Tome and Referee's Tome from DriveThruRPG. Previously, I had been making do with the short free edition which is pretty fine. 

Title: Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

SM06 The Warren
Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

Title: Advanced Fantasy Referee's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome

Advanced Fantasy<br />Referee's Tome
Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome


What I was expecting was an updated rendition of the 1e D&D books. I was wrong. 

These books have more in common with the B/X sets or perhaps the Rules Cyclopedia. But wait! That's not all. The author, Gavin Norman set out to refine B/X by remove some warts and flaws. Not only was he successful, but he also went on to fix all of the Unearthed Arcana classes and the accursed Bard class of e1. Somehow, he has three different editions fused in one. Impressive. 

What fascinates me the most is how there is a basic and advanced method of character generation. The basic method uses race as a class while the advanced method allows all races to engage in a class. With a tiny modification, this is exactly how I play. The rules do not say is if you can mix basic and advanced methods of characters, but why the hell not. I allow for Basic Elves and AD&D Elven Clerics. 

The books are well-paced for teaching new players from a single set of books, which is right in line with what the original B/X books did. Timely information is presented when it's needed and not before. Mr. Norman has also rolled in some welcome updates, such as THAC0 and ascending AC. I hate them both because they are too user-friendly, but this set competently explains all three methods to suit the taste of all three player bases. 

Both books are 257 pages long a-piece. The Player's Tome is really the shining star of the set as it contains the most varied information. The Referee's Tome approximates the DMG and Monster Manual of e1 all in one book. B/X didn't have a DMG until the Red Box if I remember correctly and this format avoids getting all murky like the e1 DMG. 

So, where are the flaws? Well, there aren't any or many that I could find. More like chatter from the peanut gallery. 

The one thing that amused me was the author named a spell "Pass-Wall". Back in the Moldvay version of B/X, it was spelled "Passwall" and was completely omitted from the books except for the Staff of Wizardry description, which doesn't explain the spell. See, real peanut gallery stuff. 

I am not a fan of the short monster stat blocks like a module synopsis but have to admit it allows for the presentation of far more critters than a full quarter page stat block of the e1 Monster Manual. I always got warm fuzzies when I found a module that included an appendix with full stat blocks for new monsters. If Necrotic Gnome changed its mind and created a Monster Manual with full stat blocks, I'd totally buy that. 

The last item, I don't even know how to quantify. There is too much art. WTF? Did I say that? I love all of the art, but the format is meant for the beautiful full-color, hardback version of the book. I have a printable pdf. If I print this thing, it's going to have qualities similar to a '79 era xerox. That makes me sad and I can't wait to purchase a hard copy. 

There you have it, I found three flaws and two of them make me want to purchase a physical copy of something I already have. 

So, I guess this is another 5 gold star review. But you don't have to take my word for it, check out what some other reviewers said about this set: 

RPG.net Review: "The bullet-point presentation hits the sweet spot when it comes to saving space (and thus cramming more material between the books' pages) as well as creating concise texts with zero ambiguity."

Reviews from R'lyeh: "What is notable with all of these Classes is that the designer has tried to keep them unique, to keep their abilities from encroaching on those of Classes, and to keep them from being too powerful."

Mr. Tim Brannan gives the physical set a glorious, jealously inducing review on The Other Side Blog.  I can't wait for these to become available again. 

Again, if you haven't followed these bloggers, now is the time. Or you could cut to the chase and follow Campaign Wiki's OSR feed. It is amazing. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

Boxed sets are my gateway drug


I generally don't do 5th Edition reviews because I don't play 5th Edition much. There is a lot to like or dislike about 5th Edition. 

If you are just starting out, there are a ton of good reasons to jump into 5e. The main reason is rather simple. It's approachable and readily available to the new player. The artwork and mechanics are great and they are nice set of rules for this day and age. My son loves it and has started his gaming collection with new set of rules, which I purchased for him. 

One of my reasons for not using it is, I have collection of books going back to the Red Box set and beyond. My interest started with the Chainmail rules and expanded from there. I've filled bookshelves with games I will never play. I have an intuitive understanding of what all the major rules are in these sets. Yet another edition of games really doesn't add to what I have. 

E5, Labyrinth Lord and BECMI?
Your not kidding, eh.
The fact is, if you started at point x, you probably already an inkling of what rules x+1 would do to your gameplay. Way back in AD&D, I already had the concept of Feats and Skills as a house rule. I am not some sort of illuminary predicting the changes of the rules. Nearly everyone who played an older edition of D&D foresaw the power of the mechanics and started making changes to their gameplay as house rules. Many of these changes became standard features of the new editions. And many house rules didn't pass muster and were left behind. Here is a list of my house rules, most of which are dubious. 

As of this post, I am at 1030 post on fun and games. Lately, I've been exploring 5th Edition wondering which of any of these things will become the next generation's Red Box, Keep on the Borderlands or Isle of Dread. 

I have no idea, but I'd like to explore. And I hope you will join me. In the next series of posts, I'll be reviewing some of the 5th Edition rules. I figure this will run its course in less than 10 posts or less than 1% of everything else I've written. Because, I am that numbers guy.  

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Review - Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules

Title: Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Author: Gavin Norman
Artists: Mustafa Bekir, Michael Clarke, Mark Lyons, Thomas Novosel, Juan Ochoa, Stefan Poag, Matt Ray, Luka Rejec, Peter Saga, Del Teigeler, Andrew Walter
Year: 2017? 
Pages: 54 pages
Rating: ★★★★★

I'm not sure how to handle this. There is nothing better than those old rule D&D boxed sets. Nothing really compares to them. Until now. There are a lot of renaissance books out there but only handful really improve on the original. 

Old-School Essentials does that, even in the basic (and free) form. This 54 page book covers all of the basics so that you can play D&D with a single book. 

By now, I am sure you are aware that I love great artwork. In some places, I see this book as being offer as "no art". In other places I see it described as "player facing rules only". "Basic" doesn't refer to the original Basic/Expert dichotomy, but the traditional meaning of "basic" as "simple". 

Those are lies. This "artless" book has no less than 11 artists with great stuff appearing on dozens and dozens of pages. Also, the "player facing rules" include attack tables a combat section, which means this is fully playable from the get-go. I am going to take off two stars for those misrepresentations. Conveniently, this allows me to write a review that does not break my 5 star scale and award it a mere five gold star ranking. 

Nice how that worked out. 

What is missing is the ideation process for new Dungeon Masters. Ok, "basic" it is. What it adds are dozens of revisions to those old boxed sets rules which streamlines and clarifies those rules. 

Also missing are the non-human classes of Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling, however the rule book does not specifically say you can't have an Elven Fighter or a Dwarven cleric. Since the term used is "adventurer" and not "human", this could simply be ignored allowing the group to simply add a descriptor of choice. The players can role or roll as they wish. This doesn't change the game. It's not a terrible way to simplify a ruleset. 

Initiative and surprise are simple and complete. Armor class is reduced to just 5 rankings for none, leather, chain and plate with or without a shield. The attack matrix is set up as per the original rules but then as an option T.H.A.C.0 is introduced. They even touch on how his changes the probability which is very nice. 

Ability checks are clearly defined and branch from thieves abilities. For a simple or basic set of rules, this is a great improvement. Looking at Holmes and AD&D, the addition of professional skills into the game has always branched from thieves abilities and touched ability scores, but was never codified until later additions. In fact, it seemed to disappear from the B/X and other basic offerings. While this set does not go whole hog on these concepts, the tool is there for the creatively minded. 

This is a rock solid offering for anyone interested in the old school type game and a great reason to purchase the complete, "non-basic" set on DriveThruRPG

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Filling in the Blanks by

Todd Leback
Filing in the Blanks Filling in the Blanks

Title: Filling in the Blanks
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Cover Artist: Jenna Drummond (jendart.com),
Interior Artists: Chad Dickhaut, Adrian Barber, and Dan Smith
Year: 2020
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This particular book comes in two forms, the preview edition and the regular edition. I have both. The preview edition is a text only copy of the main concepts of the full book, which is more than enough to let you know if you would want or need this title. 

Starting at the beginning, let me tell you about the author. Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building, authored a one page dungeon and had two successful Kickstarters. The most recent, as mentioned before, is the book Into the Wild. This should be out in about a month or so. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. He runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. As I mentioned in my review of Hexcrawl Basics, the link to both his Patreon and Jenna Drumman's sites are too small so I have reproduced them here. 

Filling in the Blanks is all about generating hexes. He covers geologic features, habitation of a variety of sizes, resources, hazards, lairs, etc. Of course there is a bit about magic and weather. This product is totally table driven with the text providing guidance and examples for usage. Those three together are great for demonstration of how the game is supposed to work. It's also a great way to allow for adaption to specific campaigns and thematic settings. 

My personal favorite part is on graveyards, but I think most people will like the section on Inns. That one seems to be the most useful for any campaign. Maps are in color, while the art is black and white. Somehow, I suffered a printer mishap and all of the black and white art came out blue tinted. I actually like that, but is probably my own problem. 

All in all, this is a great book on the someone who is well versed in hexcrawling. The only slight weakness is the lack of links back to Hexcrawl Basics. That title makes a good primer for what this book covers. While this title is only 79 pages, it is can feel like drinking from a firehose. There is a lot of information packed into this book. 

It would make a great addition and edition for anyone desiring a full featured exploration of the concept of Hex Crawling. While written for Old School Essentials, it can be easily adapted to any rule set. I might even be using this for a continuing Star Wars campaign. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Hexcrawl Basics by Todd Leback

Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback (Link to Patreon)
Artists, Interior: Bruno Balixa, Dean Spencer, Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games, Jack Holliday, Matt Forsyth, Matthew Richmond
Cover Art: Jen Drummond
Year: 2019
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars


My first 3 reviews were on a single series of novels. I most recently reviewed How to Hexcrawl. I like the idea of series reviews or fits, but for awhile I'll be limiting myself to pairs of related titles. These are not comparisons, but singular reviews. 

Here is my usual warning, this book is written for OSE but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. If you had a dungeon and you moved the characters outside, this book would be of use to you. 

This title starts with a definition of a hexcrawl, which is a very economical start. This is one of many books on the subject by the author, every concept is very tight owing to Mr. Leback's great experience on the subject. The first section covers the hex and the player's purpose in these hexes and the process to be followed. Artwork is used not only as mere art, but Worldographer maps exemplify what the author spells out. Todd Leback's use of art is excellent. 

Chapter two and three cover features and lairs found in hexes and subhexes plus random encounters. The next two sections cover procedural events, weather and getting lost, which are big part of the hexcrawl experience. 

The final chapter is an extended example of the hexcrawl process in action. It nicely loops back to the beginning of the book and marches the reader all the way to the end without missing a beat. I suppose that the book could have been written without this extended section, but would be a lesser work. The example perfects this book. 

Three caveats about this book. The artwork is very nice but does not print well on plain paper. The only way to get a nice copy of this book is to print on extreme quality on great paper. It is totally worth it, take the effort and time to do it right.  

Second, there is a small link to Mr. Leback's Patreon. Blink and you'll miss it, so I have placed it here. I normally don't do that, but the link to Populated Hex was almost too unobtrusive. (EDIT - There is also a Kickstarter coming soon. I've never gone in on a Kickstarter, but this might be the one to start with.)

I was tempted to make this a 4.5 of 5 starts but the example and the excellent artwork kicks it up one more level. Especially if you print it nicely. I was drawn to this title and series by the cover art, which I love.