Monday, December 26, 2022

Feycatchers BFRPG Setting (WIP)

Koffing & Weezing from Pokémon 
©️1997 Nintendo Entertainment 
 So, my oldest son caught a bad case of Pokémania this year. Pokémon cards, cartoons, dolls, and more are running rampant through my house and infecting his imagination.  I have been trying to dodge this phenomenon since he turned four. To no avail. It has been so intense that I am to the point where I have decided "If I can't beat 'em, I might as well join 'em."

But on my terms.

For Christmas,  among the Pokémon cards and Pikachu dolls, was a copy of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, and a set of dice from me.

I decided to make this gift a little more attractive, by tying it in to his new obsession. I decided to build a campaign world that mixed Pokémon, Fantasy Role-Playing, and a bit of Celtic Mythology. Into a new campaign setting. 

Monday, December 19, 2022

Developing A World Through Encounter Tables

 Random encounter and wandering monster tables are underused; not only from a mechanical standpoint, as thy have fallen out of favor in modern play and so their power to build tension has been lost, but from a world-building angle as well. A good  encounter table is capable of providing hooks and lore by showing, not telling.

I want to provide an example from my daily blog for the Dungeon23 challenge: Into the Devouring Wilderness. This is a area that runs down the center of the hex crawl I am building,

Here's the original article:

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Random Encounters: The Inkandi

Listen, I know you are really curious about who or what is lighting the torches in this dungeon. I was once, too. Unfortunately for me, I got an answer.

The Inkandi are not spoken of and better not seen. Just be sure to mark your gratitude in the ashes when you pass, and don't look too deeply into the shadows. Those who insist on noticing them and meeting their gaze are taken away to the hidden pocket worlds in which they nest. Such people are fed toxins and left as bait for the grues they war with in the gloom.

And make no mistake, if there are torches lit with no sign of who lit them, there are grues about, too.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Into the Devouring Wilderness

 I have started my Hex23 content a little ahead of 2023 to give myself some wiggle room later, and get the biggest, most complicated entries out of the way before the holidays.

You can catch all this cool new Deathtrap Lite content on my new secondary blog Into the Devouring Wilderness.

Thursday, December 8, 2022


"Undercroft Entry of Burg Drachenfels", CC-BY-SA Haselburg-müller

 Sean McCoy, the creator of the awesome Scifi-Horror TTRPG Mothership, has recently started a challenge for himself he calls Dungeon23, which has gone viral in the OSR Crowd.

The premise is simple: create one dungeon room a day every day in 2023 , and in the end he will have a sprawling 365-room mega dungeon.

I liked the challenge, as did my buddies from the Weirth campaign.

While we were chatting about it, I proposed a modified version of it that would appeal to me personally:

Monday, December 5, 2022

My Go-to Places to Hunt for Art

Bisqit's Brandy poster
by Alphonse Mucha
Lithograph, 1899

As an amateur indie RPG developer, I want to be able to include art in my books. I want them to look beautiful. I want the benefits of easier absorption, reader inspiration, and desirability that good art adds to my work.

However, I don't make a great deal off of my creative work. The proceeds of my modules and manuals thus far have gone to getting more books for review on this website.

I have a long way to go before I can leave something as visually interesting as I would like that is full of commissioned artworks.

This means I spend a great deal of time hunting for artwork to use in my books and modules. Thankfully, I've had some good tips over the years. Guilherme Gontijo's "How to Make Cool RPG Pamphlets" was a good starting point for me. Since then I have slowly expanded my selection of resources. Below are some of my favorite places to find Art for my role playing books at low or no budget.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

The Dungeon that Ate Itself

Ochre Jelly, CC0 image
by Marianna Villarreal Ruiz
 I would like to relay I'm interesting development that occurred while I was running Greg Gillespie's Highfell last night.

If you are not familiar, Highfell: the Drifting Dungeon is the second of Greg Gillespie's old- school mega-dungeons. These are huge, sprawling environments with hundreds of rooms, peppered with puzzles, traps, both classic and weird monsters, and bizarre, over-the-top factions. Highfell is a floating island that was once a college of wizards. It's made up of a collection of towers, many of which have single-floor dungeons beneath them, with the dungeon's "level" set more by the towers' distance from the center of the island then by its depth underground.

I am running as vanilla an AD&D1e game as I can; 50% of the play time has been dedicated to traditional dungeon crawling, complete with regular wandering monster rolls. My only house rules are that I'm using the B/X versions of morale and NPC reactions because they are just quicker for me to use from memory.

During their exploration of the Crumbling Collegium of Kalguumer, a sprawling 55 room dungeon filled with secret doors and pit traps, the player characters literally kicked off s bizarre chain-reaction.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Easter Egg Guide to Deathtrap Lite


I know it's a bit cornball, but I put a lot of Easter Eggs regarding indie RPGs in my adventure game Deathtrap Lite. In places, they get to a stupid level per page. I thought I might list them out for anyone who wants to see how many they caught.

Consider each a love letter of sorts to someone I admire in indie gaming or pop culture.

Friday, November 25, 2022

3 Quirks of Player Psychology

 There are three interesting quirks of player psychology in Dungeons & Dragons (and I would say most similar role-playing games) that I have both observed for myself and have heard verified by other GMs that I wanted to share with you. 

Partially because it is worth a laugh: you will see yourself in them. And partially because a GM ought to be prepared for them. And also because they are very exploitable to increase impact in your game.

Death Before Disarmament (or Taxes...)

Despite it just being a few words written on a sheet of paper, players get really attached to their characters' treasures and equipment. Once they have it, they will fight to keep it 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Great Resources Idea Mining

Sometimes,  when planning for a game, you look at the blank sheet of note paper and your brain just freezes. I had that problem last night when planning to start up something new with my wife. I'm lucky, insofar as I have amassed a pretty impressive library of game books.

In the name of sharing the awesome, I want to share my favorite idea mining resources with you today.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The Relationship Between Rule Complexity & Rule Opacity

"This pitiless reptile had killed his poor companions"
Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931)
 Since I've started to try to reorganize Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for my Ruins & Redcaps project, it has been really interesting taking note of what Gygax chose to share with players in the PHB, and what got moved to the DMG.

In fact, one of my big complaints when I made the shift from Mentzer Basic to AD&D in 1987 was that some things I was used to seeing in the player's book, like attack matrices and saving throws were nowhere to be found. 

It was equally aggravating a year and a half later when I finally got the AD&D2e DMG to complete my set and discovered that it didn't have saving throws, either. They had been put back in the PHB. At eight years old, running my first campaigns that moved above third level, I found myself doing extrapolations of mathematical algorithms in order to figure out what the saving throws ought to be at higher levels.

(Yes, I was one of those, kids.)

There was definitely some complicated and clashing ideas between different TSR designers about exactly how transparent Dungeons & Dragons ought to be.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Cloning AD&D to Avoid Zero Days


I have been having a rough month! Both of my sons developed croup a while back, and no sooner did my oldest recover from that, but he and my wife each brought another virus home. So, I've been intending with croup, the flu, and a Norovirus all at the same time. Amazingly, in spite of all the bedclothes I've changed, baths I've given, and laundry I've done, I have managed to avoid getting infected with any of it myself.

With a lot of long nights spent sitting vigil over my family, my creative energy has been next to zero. I have had neither the creativity to continue working on The Depths of the Eternal Ocean, or to continue editing and refining the presentation of Deathtrap Lite. Valkyrie remains a slow movie side project intended to catch my thoughts while working on Eternal Ocean.

Needless to say, I haven't really wanted to lose my writing time. In fact, I have been aggressively grabbing time for myself whenever I can. So, I started yet another project. A much less demanding one. This one is for dipping into when I have the time, and probably won't be ready for a very long time. 

The project is intended to be a faithful reproduction of AD&D's rules.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

In Case You Missed It, volume 1

 I am a relative latecomer to the OSR, and it means that I have missed a lot.

Blissful Ignorance

For decades, I enjoyed my gaming hobby in relative isolation. I have never been to a convention.  I only read Dragon for a brief stretch from 1992-1995, I have only played a few sessions of Shadowrun Missions at my FLGS. And while I was pretty active on the official D&D forum for about three years, I didn't pay much mind to hobby news, and didn't stay with it when they migrated the servers in 2005. 

In general I have been content to play Dungeons & DragonsRIFTS, GURPS, Mage, and Shadowrun  (with the odd game of HōL) with close friends and family, and be done with it. You can be very happy in this hobby ignoring what is going on behind the scenes.

When Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition came out, WotC let slip on a podcast that two years worth of D&D3.5e products: the second round of Complete X, Races of X, the PHB II, and The Book of Nine Swords had all been just playtest material for 4th edition; they had used the culture of heavy rules chatter they'd fostered in the forums to turn them into a test lab, and had never really intended to support the material in those books after the edition rollover. I was incensed, and started looking for alternatives to D&D. I opted for Patfinder because it was familiar and compatible with my 3e collection. 

I didn't discover the OSR until I had two small children, and couldn't get very much gaming in. I found that 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons was simply too cumbersome a system, and you couldn't actually accomplish a lot in the little time that I had for gaming. I wanted a game where you could get a lot more done in the time I had. And I remembered how quickly things moved back when I was a kid playing AD&D I'd remembered hearing about Labyrinth Lord,  and started looking for mire info. And so it was just a few weeks before I started this blog that I got interested in the OSR. But this means that I have missed over a decade of cool stuff.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Updated Xen Documentation

 If you are following my Xen campaign stuff, I wanted to post two updates.


First, I have a new map that shows actual rivers, rather than common water travel routes. So it doesn't look like the Empire carved insane canals across the continent. With special thanks to Ben Milton and his map drawing tutorials so that I felt confident actually drawing these maps.

©2022 Brian C. Rideout

Setting Document

And I have updated the campaign document with maps, better editing, and an appendix of the Deities of Xen. Shared on Google Drive.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Building a Bespoke Science Fiction Setting: Valkyrie

 One of the projects I have been working on lately is a science fiction campaign called Valkyrie. It is separate from my Eternal Ocean project, but connected and so far as I'm using them to build on similar ideas and conduct similar experiments.

I'm also building Valkyrie as a toolbox. When I first started working on this blog, I was involved in building a custom Pern-inspired campaign called Ær. Ær was a campaign in which the last surviving members of humanity were stranded on floating islands, and traveled by riding on dragons.

Custom System 

Part of the point of Ær was to have built a D&D-based game system written in my own words and integrating my own preferred rules so that I would have something that easily copied and pasted, which would allow me to make a bespoke D&D clone for every campaign. Allowing me to fine-tune the experience to exactly what I want.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Sourcebook Review: Lowlife 2090 Alpha Supplement

: Stephen Grodzicki
Publisher: Pickpocket Press 
System: Lowlife 2090
Marketplace: DriveThruRPG 

 Lowlife 2090 Alpha Supplement is a free resource for my favorite cyberpunk and sorcery role-playing game. 

This sourcebook is extremely straightforward and focuses primarily on character generation options. When you create a character for Lowlife 2090, you roll randomly for starting contacts and implants for your character. As well as making a few choices for your gear loadout.

The bulk of the Alpha Supplement offers a much richer, more elaborate set of tables for determining who your character knows, what machinery they have implanted in their body, and what equipment they have on their persons. It expands the previous d8 tables into D12 and d20 tables.

Alpha Supplement also includes a sections put that few new firearms, augmentations, and to drones.

Friday, October 28, 2022

What's in a Label?

 This is yet another essay brought about by Twitter exchanges. There has been a lot of young new-school players lately taking shots at the idea that D&D is a war game or was ever such a thing.

And, of course, there are plenty of people willing to argue the other side as well, because on many levels D&D in particular continues to hold a lot of war game elements to it.

Personally, I find the whole debate, (if you can call it that as it is typical Twitter shouting,) misses a critical point. Which is that the map is not the territory. Genre labels are not solid objective measures of anything.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Silver Gull Campaign Update: Dungeons & Dentistry

 It's been a while since I have done an update on the Silver Gull campaign, but it is still going strong at 34 sessions since late January.

September 12th

After my players made a deal with a blue dragon to defend the Town of Orhan for a usurious fee, they decided to bail before the townsfolk really understood the deal. They took off in the Silver Gull and headed West towards the town where the campaign had begun.

While in the air, the players got to know the new crew members that their henchmen and hired. Among them was Linna, a new player character. Linna is a bard. I adapted the class at the players request from the Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy version. Liina was intended to be a replacement for Reine who has gone into semi-retirement as she's maxed her level.

During their flight, the airship was attacked by a group of harpies who threatened to lure crewman off of the ship to plummet to their dooms unless they were paid a sum of 3,000 gold pieces.

With a new mid-level bard in the party, the harpies' song was easy to overcome. They even managed to charm one and get it to land of the deck after they killed a couple of the harpies and forced the others to land due to damage from their artillery... A fire breathing Zardoz head mounted on the bow of the ship.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Sourcebook Review: Trade Winds: An Items and Services Compendium

Trade Winds: An Items & Services 
. Art by David L. McLees;
©️2021 Faulty-Wire Games
: David L. McLees
Publisher: Faulty-Wire
System: Low Fantasy Gaming
Marketplace: DriveThruRPG

Trade Winds: An Items and Services Compendium is a source book for Low Fantasy Gaming written by David L. McLees It takes the concept of variable values for objects and expands on it to make those variable item values make some level of sense.

Trade Winds starts this by breaking down the currency in Low Fantasy Gaming into a more traditional set of coinages. Instead of the very basic copper, silver, gold, and platinum, we have copper pence, silver shillings, larger silver florins, gold crowns, and larger gold pounds

Objects are valued at a number of dice in particular currency.  For example, a battle axe might cost 4d8 florins. An object exceptional quality might add to dice, while one of poor quality subtract one or two dice. Exotic materials add a number of dice to the appropriate currency when used to make the object. Of you exceptional materials or enchantments increase the kind of currency expended, so a mythril  or adamantine dagger would be upgraded from 2d10 shillings to 2d10 florins.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Sourcebook Review: The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion

Cover to the Low Fantast Gaming
Companion; Art by Andreas Rocha
©️ 2019 Pickpocket Press
: Stephen J. Grodzicki
System: Low Fantasy Gaming
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG

The Low Fantasy Gaming Companion is a source book for Low Fantasy Gaming. It is designed to be played with a baseline of the game, and doesn't include much in the way of new options for the expanded classes from the Deluxe Edition like a monk or artificer. It does, however, include references and material from The Midlands Campaign Setting. Although, it does so in a way that is not intrusive and easy to work around. The Companion is designed to offer a range of optional rules for tweaking your campaign, and additional rules to keep the campaign moving after characters have reached high level.

The first section of the book is a huge menu of downtime activities. It includes rules for making magic items, brewing potions, running a business, purchasing items on the black market, carousing, doing research, making and working contacts, hiring henchmen and hirelings, training to gain levels, learning new languages, gambling, or practicing a trade. It also has rules for making new enemies, and tracking the activities of enemies the PCS have made.

Monday, October 10, 2022

What's in a System ?

 Last week the inimitable Travis Miller published an article called What Is A Tabletop RPG System? In it, he tries to define what is a role-playing system. It's the beginning of a longer theoretical investigation, It  really got me thinking.

I was hoping, as good communicators do, to rephrase it to see if I understand it, and then build on it.

So, the core idea that started Travis rolling was the tendency of role-playing hobbyists to call the rule sets that they tend to use "systems." But, if you consider what a system is, the game rules alone simply don't fit the definition. After all, the rule set is only an engine under which a lot of other things that go into the game runs on. And, if you consider how things are played in the Free Kriegspiel Revolution, then the rules may be almost unnecessary to role play.

The Impact of Setting Facts on Play

In the FKR, they say that you play the world, not the system. Whenever possible, players or the referee or both consider what makes logical sense given the fact established in play or the development sessions that built the world in the first place.

If, for example, you've established that the elves draw heavily on the darker aspect of Celtic lore as I have done in Xen, they will require blessed weapons, black Iron weapons, or possibly magic to kill them. In any other scenario, an elf might be overpowered and captured by a significantly more powerful opponent, but can only be completely removed from the story through a very narrow scope of means. That means when an elf meets a knight on the battlefield, or a giant, the results need to be interpreted in that context, never mind the rules. In an FKR game, it would probably be established at the knight would die a valiant death trying to take on an Elven swordsman, while the elf might end up trussed up for a century of torment before breaking free from a Giant's captivity unless rescued later.

Those facts are every bit as important to the game as how an attack roll is resolved. They are just as much a part of the system.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Game Review: EZD6

Cover, EZD6
Author: Scotty "DM Scotty" Mc Farland

Publisher: RUNEHAMMER Games

System: D6 variable target system

Marketplace: DrivethruRPG

EZD6 is a rules like role-playing game by YouTube's DM Scotty, and released through room Hankerin Ferinale's RUNEHAMMER imprint.

It is a straightforward fantasy / sword & sorcery dungeon crawler in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons. it definitely has strong OSR aesthetics, but is exceptionally rules light. I would say that is only slightly crunchier than Tiny Dungeon 2e.

The System 

Uncertain tasks are resolved by a d6 roll against a variable Target number by the "Rabble Rouser" (GM) between the two and six. Rolls of one always fail, sixes always succeed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Trying to Set Up Lulu Versions of my Books

 So, I got distracted this weekend setting up my books to meet Lulu"s print standards.

This is no mean task. I write my PDFs in Google Docs and do at least the minimum of layout as I work so that things fit in the spread. I suspect by Google Docs standards, I am doing élite Lev work.

But there is the rub... It is still Google Docs, which creates flawed .PDFs at the best of times. It downgrades image resolution, and is fiddly between devices.

At the end of the day, I am going to have to learn Scribus, I suspect. But I have ordered copies of Strange Ways and Deathtrap Lite to see if I can get an acceptable quality as is from Google Docs 

I will let you all know how that turned out.

It does mean that if you have either of those books, an u

pdated version is now available for you on DrivethruRPG or

In the meantime, I have started my third attempt at teaching myself Sctibus, in hopes of doing three or four pages a day as I go.

So far, just recreating the cover and inner cover rules summary has been a hassle. If anyone can point me to good Scribus resources, please do!

Thursday, September 29, 2022

She Who Lurks


There is a challenge going around on Twitter to write an interesting role-playing game in 20 words or less.

I came up with a simple d6 system, highly abbreviated given the word count limitation.

I took some inspiration from RPG Pundit's Gnome Murdered and decided that one result on the table would kill a character and turn whatever game you were playing into a horror game.

In the name of creating an implied setting, I had the death result be caused by something called "She who Lurks", and hoped that would make it maximally interesting.

Russ from Yum/DM said he likes the notion, but I would do it as a 2d6 system. So, for an additional Lark today, I'm going to create an "Advanced" She Who Lurks, just for the fun of it. I have constrained myself to a single two-sided piece of paper. 

The game is very much borrowing its ideas from the storygames genre, and like most rules-light games, it doesn't offer a lot in the way of history. It presupposes you know what "3d6" means and how to narrate the game.

But, as far as it goes, I am pretty happy with the outcome:

She Who Lurks

Monday, September 26, 2022

Game Review: Low Fantasy Gaming: Deluxe Edition

 Stephen Grodzicki
Publisher: Pickpocket Press
Engine: Low Fantasy Gaming (OSR-Compatible)
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG

One of my earliest reviews was of Steve Grod's Low Fantasy Gaming: a system I have used on a weekly basis as a player and frequently as a GM to boot. You can check out LFG for free, and it is definitely worth your time, as it remains in my top 5 OSR games consistently.

After enjoying LFG, and his Cyberpunk & Sorcery derivative Lowlife 2090, which he kindly sent me for review around its release, I decided I wanted to make sure to show my appreciation. I picked up the Low Fantasy Gaming: Deluxe Edition in hard copy when I had a little extra cash from sales of my adventure modules.

I have been meaning to review it for over a year now, and I feel that I have definitely gotten a solid handle on the merits of the system.

Low Fantasy Gaming: Deluxe Edition is an upgrade from the free edition in a lot of ways. Or contains several extra classes: the Artificer, Cultist, Monk, Ranger. It also includes rules for sea battles, mass combat, sample unique character abilities, special rules for black powder and tavern brawls, and information about the Midlands campaign setting. It's spell list is also revised from LFG.

It is designed as a premium product. the layout and art are redone to make a more pleasurable reading experience.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Adventure Review: The Abandoned Estate of Moonweaver Hall

: Albert Lovasz
System: Dungeons & Dragons 5e
Marketplace: DM's Guild

I downloaded this module out of a sense of pure bloody+mindedness. It's author was treated in a way that made me so angry that I had to do something to give him a boost.

The Abandoned Estate of Moonweaver Hall is a module for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons published on DM's Guild. It is the first effort for the author, and met with a very cold reception. The kind that made me genuinely angry.

He was attacked on Twitter by a mob of DM's Guild creators who identified themselves as "professional game designers" who lambasted him for taking eyes away from their products. They implied that DM's Guild was an exclusive community for professionals, and new "hobbyists" were hurting their sales.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Game Review: Mörk Borg

Mörk Borg Cover art by Johan Nohr
©️2019 Ockult Örtmästare Games
& Stockholm Kartell
Author: Pelle Nilsson
Publisher: Ockult Örtmästare Games & Stockholm Kartell; Free League
Engine: Mörk Borg (OSR Compatible)
Note: I am reviewing a game here with very dark themes and subject matter. If you have trouble with blood, gore, violence against children, etc. I suggest you read no further.

Mörk Borg has been a phenomenon on the osr scene for almost 2 years now. It's a game that people like to talk about and often have strong opinions on. It certainly is unique in its design and tone.

Mörk Borg is inspired by Scandinavian Doom medal aesthetics, and has a list of suggested musicians to listen to for inspiration at the front. Many of which I was already familiar with. I am the kind of guy who is definitely the game's target audience: former goremonger, metal head, arts fan.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Let Me Tell You About My Fantasy Heartbreaker

So now that it is out into the world, I want to tell you all a bit more about the creation of Deathtrap Lite.


When I created the game, it was a sudden brainstorm. I was tinkering with the 7-UP system Stephen Smith had created for his World of Weirth setting. At the time we had been playing the campaign for a year, as an add-on to Low Fantasy Gaming. The idea was to have a skill system that was robust, freeform, and that could allow a character to develop organically outside of the leveling system.

It was a good system, but it had a few bugs.

We'd agreed that the system needed an overhaul, because my fellow players were cautious about using it in many circumstances. The probabilities it produced were less favorable than ability checks, and we were often confused about when it would be used.

While I was writing up my recommended tweaks, I saw that I could build a whole role-playing game system out of the engine without too much difficulty. It just needed even more tweaking... (I wonder how many man-made horrors started with this line of thought.)

I began doodling up a rules-light system with a single unified mechanic based on Stephen's 7-Up system, and renamed it "Over Six" after it started to deviate quite a bit from source. It was like a compulsion. I couldn't stop tinkering with this engine, and at the end of a week and a half of scribbling in my spare time, I had a complete game system written.

Once I had the game engine, it seemed a shame not to have a game. So, I decided to write an OSR-inspired game with it. I rearranged the combat system a bit to work using standard OSR monster stat blocks. I replaced my NPC interaction rules with something that strongly resembled the 2d6 NPC reaction rules used in B/X clones.

By the end of the second week, I had a game that was compatible with almost all OSR adventure modules, monsters, and spells, but was mechanically distinct.

But, why on Earth would you want to play it?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Game Review: GROK?!

Cover to GROK?!
Art by Matias Viro

: Lester Burton 
Publisher: Self-published 
Engine: Custom rules-lite table-based system
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG

I picked up GROK?! recently for a $1.69 on DrivethruRPG. If had been showing up in my personalized recommendations a few times, and I thought it looked interesting from its spiel.

GROK?! labels itself as an Old-School tabletop role-playing game, It doesn't derive from older systems, but it It subscribes very strongly to Matt Finch's "four zen moments of Old-School tabletop." It relies on rulings not rules, and trusts actors and directors (players and GMs) to come up with narrative results that makes sense.

Structurally, it blends a lot from more modern tabletop role-playing games like Overlight with elements from story games such as Fate and Numenéra. Knave and MotO figure very strong in it's DNA. 

The System 

Grock uses an oracle-like system like Talisanta or VSD6 where characters roll a die and consult a table. A roll of one or two is a failure with additional consequences. A roll of three or four are a success result; a roll of six or higher is a result that is both successful and beneficial to the player character in an additional, unexpected way.

In other words, it uses the basic structure of improv. With "no, and...", "yes", and "yes and..." being your possible die result

EDIT: Lester Burton reminded me on Twitter that 3-4 is a Success in GROK?! Not an indifferent result.

Characters have three attributes that are rated as die rolls in a similar Overlight. A low stat is expressed to the d4, average stats are d6s and d8s, and exceptional stats are expressed as d10s.

Characters roll a single d12 during character generation to determine which of several possible stat arrays they start with.

Characters otherwise have a selection of traits and assets. They have seven slots for traits, of which five are occupied by personality or backstory elements, such as their place of origin, motive for adventuring, occupational background, and greatest virtue.

Assets are a series of slots for contacts, hirelings, equipment, magic spells, or anything else the player character might use to their advantage during an adventure.

Filling all your assets slots not only causes your character to be encumbered, with appropriate penalties, but also is extremely risky to their health (see below.)

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Deathtrap Lite goes live

I have posted my first iteration of Deathtrap Lite up on and DrivethruRPG for sale!

This represents nearly two years of play testing and tinkering with the system. I designed it to be plug and play. Sometimes I use parts sometimes I use the whole system. And I have thankfully had Stephen Smith use it to fill in the gaps in his own 7-UP system.

So, here's how it works:

The Engine 

Deathtrap Lite is cobble together from some of my favorite elements of the osr games I have reviewed over the last few years.

Everything is handled by a simple, straightforward mechanic. Whenever you need to make a determination for a character action where the outcome is uncertain and as a big impact on the narrative you roll a task check.

Tasks are an open list of skills. There is no one definitive long list of tasks your character might perform. Their descriptions are open-ended, and so, if there is a task in which your character has experience on the character sheet, you can advocate to make that the one you use.

You roll a die based on how experienced you are with that particular task, and add in a few modifiers, such as bonuses for high ability scores and penalties for low ones, bonuses for excellent quality gear or penalties for not having the right gear, etc. The goal is to roll a number over 6.. Thus the name Over Six Engine.

If you have no clue what you're doing, you roll a d8 and hope for the best.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Silver Gull Campaign Update: Dickering with Dragons

The Blue Book cover to the Holmes
version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons
C 1978 TSR Inc. Art by David C. Sutherland

 I have no idea if anyone reads these, but I'm sure enjoying writing them.

As I wrote about in a previous article, the dice led to the generation of a rival group of NPC adventurers in the town of Orhan, which have been picking up the slack where the player characters have been ignoring local concerns. These adventurers managed to put themselves to the cusp of fourth level before they went into a ruin and woke a dragon.  Three of these NPCs were killed, two captured, and only one managed to escape the dragon. This dragon, Arenax, is the focal point of my two most recent sessions.

August 22nd

Having slain the Demons of the Oracle of Inkandus, the PCs returned to the holy Mesa where cactus people draw on the Water of Life to gain visions. They are warned by the talking Crow, which serves as the guardian to many local holy sites, that they have come at a bad time: The Behir that guards the Mesa is hunting. The PCs get under cover just in time, as the Behir wanders into the entrance to the mesa. The Crow lies to it it says it is not seen any humans.

The PCs wait for the creature to leave, and then ask the Crow some questions. First about the Djinni that guards the oracle, and whether it can be trusted to allow the PCS to pass now that they have done as it instructed. She answered "yes" to those questions, but with warnings to watch for wordplay.

They also asked the Crow about herself. They already knew that she was a polymorphed and immortal sorceress, but the rest of the details were hazy. She introduced herself as Razia, a sorceress who lived in the earliest days of the Empire, and who had been variously friend, enemy, lover, and rival to another wizard they had encountered from that same era, Sandivh. Razia had done something so wicked and sinful that she had been cursed by a group of demigods from the region. She was polymorphed into a crow and forced to eternally protect the sites of the Cult of Malek from fools and fell sorcerers until such time as the evil of the city of Imran was no longer a threat.

Having discovered a bottle that turns any creature into a human when properly prepared in the demonic liquor cellar of Inkandus, Finch offered to turn her back into a human. They suggested that perhaps the gods had arrayed things so that the PCs could purge the oracle, slay some of the Achaierai, and drive off other monsters left over from the era of Imran. That they, in fact, had fulfilled the conditions of the curse, and have the means to lift it by holy design.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Honoring the Dice and Letting the Game Run Away With You


This is a bit of a callback to an older article on how Chaos makes TTRPGs more fun.

This long weekend, my wife and I are finally able to get a game running after a long vacation where we had little privacy and a lot of expectations on our time. After a discussion of a plot of my son's favourite cartoon awhile back she challenged me to write a campaign with the premise "Mutiny & Mind Control."

What I came up with was a blend of elements from Delve 2e, Pirates of the Caribbean, Path of Exile, the original Tomb Raider games, and the Sorcery! series of Fighting Fantasy games. And decided on playing the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for a system. Just because I can.

The Setting

My premise is this: The uncharted island of Nadalia, a week's sail to the West of Xen is home to an immortal Witch-Queen, who has lived to see multiple civilizations rise and fall around her. She lives in the ruined splendor of her second fallen empire as she seeks the final steps to true godhood. To keep her in slaves and test subjects, she has seeded the mainland with crystal hypnosis balls that allow her to capture the mind of heroes, power-hungry magicians, and aristocrats and turn them into pirates and slavers on her behalf.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The Rivals: One-to-one Time and Random Campaign Development

Promotional art for the Dungeons &Dragons cartoon
©️1983 D&D Entertainment

Let me tell you about how my campaign started running itself  through a curious set of random rolls inspired by my rumor chart and one-to-one time.

My Xen campaign uses a modified version of the one-to-one time tracking that Stephen Smith uses in the Wierth campaign. When my players are in the middle of a dungeon, and we have to intercession, we pause and pick up where we left off. I keep track of the turns that have passed, and occasionally tell the players approximately how long they have been in the dungeon.

When we end outside of a dungeon, I handle the player characters' return to base myself. Rolling for random encounters if necessary, and handling combat in an abstract way if they should run into danger.

Given that my Player Characters got hold of a functional ornithopter, and kept it studiously repaired and fueled (until it was stolen,) I have not had much to do that regard.

How I Handle Time Between Sessions

Between sessions, I ration one week on Xen for downtime, which is 8 days 

I have set a 1-in-6 chance that something will happen during that time.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Xen Maps

 I recently picked up Campaign Cartographer 3 and have been teaching myself how to use it, so that I have an easier way to make maps for the adventure modules I like to put out into the world that I don't have to worry endlessly about the license for.

As an experiment I decided to do two maps for my Xen campaign.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Mosquito of DOOM!

Let me tell you about the TPK I nearly experienced this week, because it was awesome.

I've been traveling, and that means there's been a lot of long drives with my kids in the backseat. There's only so long I'm willing to let them watch cartoons on the tablet, because I don't want them cranky or crazy at the end of the drive. So, I gave my son a refresher on Tiny Dungeon 2E, and taught him how to design a quick and dirty five room dungeon.

After hearing some of my stories, he has decided to add his own flavor of gonzo play into the game.

While driving to a family function last Thursday, I created a mighty, axe-wielding warrior-mage, who was sent to save the souls of the dead from a powerful ghoul who was eating both body and spirit alike in a nearby tomb. After defeating the skeletal minions of the ghoul, and avoiding a trap, I discovered a skeletal warrior who still retained some of his mind. I asked the warrior what the ghoul's weakness was. My son replied in a spooky voice: "fabulousness."

I decided to run with it, and had my magician use his magic to clean himself up, wax his moustache, shine his gear, and dye his clothes. I made an entrance in a cloud of sparkling magical smoke. The Ghoul was rendered powerless by my sudden intense style and charisma. As I applied a magical makeover to the creature, it screamed and melted away.

Thus, Haxxus the Bold became Haxxus the Stunning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

First Impressions: One D&D

 I've taken the time to sit down and read the first round of OneD&D material. It is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. They're making a lot of serious changes to try to appeal to who they believe the critical role-driven audience is.

EDIT: I originally stated that Charm Person was not in the new spell lists. I checked twice and did not see it, but it is there. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Silver Gull Update: Kaboom!

August 8th

Sneaking ahead, Reine discovered a room with cages and gates holding the hollow-eyed and tormented husks of the damned, manes, kept pennned for The Librarian's experiments. She made it only partway through the room before they all turned as one to gaze at her. Reine swiftly backed up to the party.

In whispered voices, they got their bound Succubus to explain what they were. But the explanation was cut short by the squeak of a metal gate. The PCs turned to see an army of the damned shuffling towards them.

Finch waded in, slaying four in a flurry of blows, giving Zee room to run up and brace herself to use the fully automatic mode on her automatic crossbow.

The Crossbow emptied an entire 6 pound drum of bolts, killing another 19 manes, leaving one startled creature left, which Reine promptly killed with a spear throw.

Sometimes, you have to give your PCs a mountain of 1HD mooks just to let them feel badass.

Friday, August 19, 2022

'Zine Review: Carcass Crawler Issues #1 & 2

: Necrotic Gnome
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG (1, 2), Exalted Funeral (1, 2)
System: Old School Essentials (OSR Compatible)

Carcass Crawler is the official magazine for Old School Essentials. I recently picked up both issues in an Old-School RPG humble Bundle. They offer optional rules, content and adventures for Old School Essentials.

Each issue uses the same trade dress as OSE, and so it is a clean layout and easy to read. While much of the content is more in the vein of Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy, the magazine always includes the neessary rules excerpts for groups that are only using Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy to integrate it into their campaign seamlessly. Likewise, relevant advice and sidebars from OSE: Advanced are often included in the magazine to give Referees context and ideas on how to use the material.

Because Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy is a 99% accurate clone of Moldvay-Cook Basic Dungeons & Dragons (with just a hint of Mentzer), the content of Carcass Crawler can be used with any other B/X-based OSR game without any serious adaptation, and should not be too difficult to adapt to an AD&D based one, either.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Way Shrines and Holy Sites as "Civilization"

The White Stone
By Nicholas Roerich c. 1933
I have an idea I am tinkering with that I wanted to share with my readers.

I am currently running (mostly) a by-the-book AD&D one-to-one game with my wife that draws a lot of inspiration from the game Path of Exile and from Divinity: Original Sin II. And that will draw more than a few ideas from the OSR game Delve 2e. Specifically, the PC will begin exiled on an island controlled by a cruel Lich who uses crystal hypnosis balls to turn powerful heroes into his brainwashed minions, then makes them bring him slaves to serve in her city.

The campaign will entail a lot of wilderness adventuring on a ruin-strewn island, often spending weeks at a time in hiding away from "town."

Normally, I give PCs XP for monsters when they have had a chance to rest in a civilized place after an adventure, and give them XP for treasure when that treasure is returned to civilization. But in this campaign, that might be difficult.

So I had a great idea that adds a little flavor to clerics:

  • Have them gain XP as if they had returned to civilization when they offer up prayers at remote shrines to their god.
  • The PC must have been initiated into that god's worship.
  • The Party cleric counts as an initiate and may initiate others who are of an appropriate alignment.
  • Any treasure left or burned as offerings are counted as "returned to civilization."
  • Taking back treasure from the shrine once it is offered not only takes away the ability to pray in the future, but causes the PC to become cursed with unluck until the treasure is returned and an atonement made.

This will have a handful of logical upshots to the game.

  • I can place shrines at places near where the PCs are likely to be, so that they can still gain xp between adventures while survivng in the wilds.
  • It will incentivize exploration, as they will be able to find the shrines mostly by scouring the hexes I place them in.
  • It makes sacrifice and offerings meaningful.
  • The PCs have an incentive to convert to one of the party's clerics' deities.
  • I have a reason to build an interesting pantheon.
  • The Cleric has an incentive to seek converts and recruit hirelings and henchmen of their faith.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Game Review: Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Cover for: Old School Essentials
Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome
Art by Peter Mullen
 ©️2020 Necrotic Gnome
Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG, Exalted Funeral (hardcopy)
Engine: OSR Compatible (B/X and AD&D Fusion)

This is a review of the Advanced Fantasy version of Old School Essentials. You may find it helpful to read my recent review of Old School Essntials: Classic Fantasy to get some additional information on the game.

Old School Essentials: Classic Fantasy is an extremely popular OSR retroclone. It is a faithful recreation of the Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert boxed sets for Dungeons & Dragons. While it mostly keeps to the Moldvay rules set, many of the different rules from the later Mentzer version of B/X D&D and a few from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons are incorporated as optional rules. More modern quality-of-life options such as ThAC0 or, optionally, a base attack bonus and ascending AC.

Old School Essentials has a well-deserved reputation for being an extremely well-written, organized, and presented version of the Moldvay-Cook B/X version of the game: it is easy to read, easy to search, and likely easy to teach. It is by far the best-written and organized retroclone it has been my pleasure to read.

Cover for: Old School Essentials
Advanced Fantasy Referee's Tome
Art by Peter Mullen
 ©️2020 Necrotic Gnome
Old School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy aims to add in a number of options that were originally offered in the later supplements of the Original Dungeons & Dragons, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st and 2nd editions, and even a small set of D&D3e ideas. All of the options presented in OSE: Advanced have been re-imagined and reconceptualized to work with the B/X ruleset.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Game Review: Old School Essentials Classic Fantasy

Cover to the Old School Essentials
Classic Fantasy Rules Tome

Art by Peter Mullen
©️2019 Necrotic Gnome
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Marketplace: DrivethruRPG, Exalted Funeral (hardcopy)
Engine: OSR (B/X D&D)

I have been holding off on picking up Old-School Essentials by Gavin Norman for over a year. This wasn't because I wasn'r interested: I was. The delay was because I was holding out hope that Exalted Funeral's North American warehouses, once open, would bring shipping to Canada down to something reasonable. No such luck.

The buzz around OSE has been considerable since about the time I started this blog, and for good reason. When I saw almost the entire OSE catalog, plus a huge selection of material from Frog God Games all in one humble bundle, I jumped on it. it isn't the hardcopy boxed set that I was hoping for, but I am certainly glad that I finally had an opportunity to review it.

Friday, August 12, 2022

My Mystara Campaign that Never Was

Cover for GAZ-1 Gazetteer of the Known
World: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos
 I have run quite a few games set in the Mystara campaign setting in multiple editions of Dungeons & Dragons. As a kid I ran a few short campaigns in The Grand Duchy of Karameikos using BECMI. In Junior High I ran an AD&D2e mini campaign set on a few islands between Karamaikos and The Minrothad Guilds.  And I also ran a campaign that transitioned from BECMI to AD&D2e that was set ostensibly in Karameikos, the Broken Lands, and later The Isle of Dawn.

In 2005, I got nostalgic for Mystara and spent several days creating my own massive 3e conversion for it... and then disscovered the brnd new Vaults of Pandius had done a better job. Using a mix of my own conversion and theirs I ran a campaign I called "Mystara A-go-go" which involved the PCs freely travelling Mystara following clues of a dead treasure hunter from Karameikos to Minrothad to Irendi to the Five Shires, Darokin, Glantri, Norwold, and into the Thyatian Empire. (with stops in Pandius and Patera)

In 2007 I followed that one up with another campaign that strung Wrath of the Immortals, Adventures in Blackmoor, and Temple of the Frog into a single time-spanning adventure that covered  the entire secret history of Mystara from Blackmoor to the Cataclysm, to the creation of the Hollow World, to the Day of Wrath.

Recently, I've been getting the Mystara bug again, but I have decided to let it be. I have two campaigns right now that are taking up enough attention. But to scratch the itch at least a little, I wanted to share a campaign idea I was working on in 2005 that I never used. Maybe someone else will have use of it.