Little castles in the wildlands


There must be a zeitgeist because Ben (Questing Beast), echoed by others, is getting at pretty much how I’m also evolving my own participation consumption of the OSR after G+ implodes.

Since Jacob Hurst recommended Inoreader, I’ve enjoyed the blogs more than ever. Lined up neatly in night mode on my phone, I’ve read, reread, and saved more than ever before.

Years ago, I participated in photoblogging. I shared my work, bettered myself as a photographer, and met many friends from around the planet. It finally collated in Flickr (the G+ of that scene), then disseminated when Yahoo bought and broke it. I loved Flickr. I met my wife on Flickr. She, teaching English in China, made a leap to fly home and jump into a relationship. We’ve been together since.

Instagram is alright, though it’s always felt like a homogenized subflickr. People are there, so am I, though somewhat noncommittal. It’s just pictures of my kids.

The point I’m meandering to, is that above all, I miss those idiosyncratic photoblogs. Each one an expression of their author. The blogs of the OSR are like that too, little castles in the wildlands of the untamed internet.

My game, undecided


My wife understands social media, helpfully rolling her eyes when I bestow my great wisdom of its ills. She does because she uses it. She talks to her graph, finds the best deals, where to go, what to do. She plugs questions into it like it was an oracle.

So when I decided that in 2019, I needed to actually get my game off the ground (after an unreasonable hiatus), I posted the following To Facebook on New Years Day, with a link to Zak Smith’s Vice article about why he still loves Dungeons and Dragons in the age of video games:

I love Dungeons and Dragons. I mean LOVE it. With heart. Something I want (need) to do is run more games.

If you’re okay with a rusty, enthusiastic Dungeon Master and earlier, simpler rules: we need to get in touch this year.

And the nerds began to emerge… Mostly fellow nurses, and the odd local old-schooler, whom I’ve gamed with in the past, the only person at the time of posting, I knew would likely play. I was, for a day, genuinely excited.

But then the decision paralysis began to set in. I have my lonely prep…a small black book in which I’ve added some setting notes and transcribed half of The Tomb of the Serpent King. But I am hesitant to use my own thing, worried that it would be just a piecemeal collection of mostly dull disjointed ideas.

Then a hospital transporter, calling me on my vocera to deliver blood asked, “Where are you? Are you there?” Amusing to me as I was well away, in another patient’s room, “Of course I’m there, everywhere you’re not is there.” Shortly thereafter, another transporter handed me the wrong form, saying, “oh sorry, this a future job, you can’t sign something in the future.”

After these exchanges, I walked out to the station, and a colleague asked me about this game I posted, expressing interest, and I rather spontaneously (spurred no doubt by the transporters wry incongruities of place and time) answered that I’ll likely set it in A Red & Pleasant Land. I think I was also appealing to her and others, who will know Dumbledore* but never Nigauble of the Seven Eyes.

But now I’m not so sure. The pull of early fantasy, of Vance and Leiber, of the art of old TSR modules, of the 1e Dungeon Masters Guide, and the homages to that in the OSR, is the setting that courses through me aesthetically. Anything less, with my one possible game, I’m afraid won’t have my passion or that seventh hidden eye that looks in.


* The colleague in question posts relentless Harry Potter memes on Facebook.

What a setup


The game began as the PCs (level 1, half of them never played rpg before) regained consciousness tied up in the glacier to the sound of a prisoner’s throat being slit noisily, as a goblin waved a page in his face. It turned out the goblins were trying to find a literate prisoner among the group and were using this page as a test. Anyone who failed to convincingly read it got their throat cut. Why were they doing this? Because deep inside the glacier the goblin tribe had recently uncovered an ice-encrusted ancient warrior skeleton holding some wicked magic sword, but they couldn’t get to him unless they spent hours hacking away at it. That’s no good! They don’t have that kind of time! Luckily, a clever usurper goblin released a bunch of the shipwrecked prisoners out onto the ice, and the Norse berserkers went off to chase them down and slaughter them on their dogsleds. This gave them to chance to break into the Norseman’s private stash, grab his saved up “Magic Flame Scroll”, and use it to melt the ice, retrieve the magic sword, and seize power! The only problem is, that none of the goblins can read. Thus we need a literate PC. This was really all a way for me to introduce the main plot of the game, in that buried in the hold of the ship were hundreds of “Wanted” posters describing a young woman who has been “kidnapped”. These were the pages the goblins were using as a Reading-Test. In reality she was not just any young woman, but the grandaughter of the Kaiser, who is due at her own royal wedding to the (gouty old) Duke of Grunwald in 5 months time. The problem is that she wasn’t kidnapped – she is pregnant by her foppish courtier, and they have traveled to the Devoured Lands to abort it before the wedding collapses and causes a war. She is of course now wanted by the PCs, random bounty hunters (the reward!), the Kaiser (my reputation!), the Duke (the royal marriage alliance!), the Pope (embarrass the political head of the Empire and gain power!), some Witches (a ritual!) and the Witchunters (the princess is clearly a witch!). Finding out the ins and outs of all of this took quite a few sessions and player deaths, but finally they have entered the Devoured Lands to find her at level 4-6 for most of them.

Play Report: Frostbitten and Mutilated

DnD this year, 2019


I waste so much energy with systems. This year, just pick a system and work with nothing else. I’m just going to throw it all into BX, because eventually with me, I always end up there.

Regarding BX, I’m going to put together that pile of random notes and things in my head and home brew it into a few pages of playable game. I’m working from Gavin Norman’s excellent BX Essentials, trimming and adding from there. Alex Schroeder’s Halberds & Helmets is a big influence. I enjoy his iterative approach and simple, classic game. Focus on light and casual. I want something folded up, pretty, and played by the end of the year.

Develop the world. Make a lot dungeons. Accept that for the most part, D&D is a calm excercise of drawing dungeons in a notebook and developing something creative out of my real world observations and anxieties.

Oh, and lighten up about the whole enterprise and just run some games.

Notes from the Keep VII

The Keep

1d12 Things the Goblins are launching from their slings.

d14 Trapped Chests

Digression: Finding and disabling traps is a goddamn dungeon staple. It’s bread and butter. And yet Perception + Disable Device is the shittiest fun way to handle it, because you’re just throwing those skills at problems like a robot. It becomes a test of the character sheet, rather than the player.

Apparently PCs are very sound

..alternatives to the “wake up in a dungeon cell” method of starting a scenario.

David Hargrave’s Critical Hit Table (Classic) V 1.0.1

OD&D Annotations: A Closer Look At A Seminal Work

Gary Gygax’s Whitebox OD&D House Rules

Straits of Anián

I deleted my Twitter account. It’s a breeding ground for thoughtlessness and contempt (via Cal Newport)

Procedures for the Liberation of Sir Uravulon Calcidius

Tower of the Stargazer

Everything Herein is Fantastic

BX Houserules; interesting pdf

Last-Minute Keys and Locks & Last-Minute Keys and Locks Revised

Every locked door forever in my game.

Jeff Rients: On System

My advice to anyone currently fretting over which edition or retro-clone or whatever they should use is to just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one. No matter which one you pick D&D isn’t there. It’s your job to take that text and turn it into D&D. Interpret, interpolate, edit, house-rule, mangle, spindle, mutilate. Run that text into the ground. Import crap from other editions, other games. Break it and remake it in your own image. Only once you have your own version of D&D up and running does D&D in any way exist.

NYT: The Return of Paganism

I frequently conflate communion and ritual with D&D so this.

Why D&D Has Lots of Rules for Combat: A General Theory Encompassing All Editions

Basic Megadungeon Play and Procedures (via Chris Tamm)


Bone Marshes Workshop I and II

Fairy Generator

d100+ directions, higher numbers weirder

If Symbolist/Decadent Artists Ran D&D Campaigns

TFP DMG: How To Run Combat

Ten Foot Pole: Pollute the Elfen Memory Water

Room five tells us:

5. Frigid and icy. Vegetation here is dead and withered. Blocks of ice stacked against wall.

* Pink tendril worms frozen in blocks of ice.

* Some blocks have melted and pink tendril worms either wriggle slowly half frozen or plop onto the frigid ground.

Note how it moves the from the general description, as the first line, to the additional lines providing more info if the party looks closer. The wanderer table has them engaged in some activity. The rando flowers on the wall get a little rando table. The monsters have short descriptions, with goals and motivations clear and terse, the writing focused on party interactivity.

Ten Foot Pole: Life & Death

Oh, my heartstrings! A literal call to adventure, tt’s a pretext for all those players that seem to need one, and there are about a dozen different ones buried in the speech. It’s does this with a playful wink and a nudge. We’re all playing D&D tonight. Further, the guild is an interesting design choice. I’m usually not down with adventurers guild, but this one is a little different. It’s loose with requirements, gives the folks benefits, like food and lodging, provides the occasional pretext, AND DOESNT BACKSTAB THE PARTY. It also gives the DM a couple of tools, like magic portals, etc, to get the party moving across the game world and interacting with stuff.


Iambic tetrameter flavor text of the entrance to the woods:

Beyond the mossed and tumbled walls, the air convolves with inky swirls. Beneath the moons dance shimmering wisps. But on the road, beneath the looming trees, the night is dark and clear.

Questions and Hex Describe

Questions to establish characters, via Alex Schroeder.

On Skill Deconstruction: Why Roll for Resolution? via When to roll

AD&D Study & Reading

A Set of Unified Wilderness Travel Procedures


Procedural Dungeons

The Book of Crushing Force


A couple of years ago, I participated in Oddvent. This was my contribution:

The Book of Crushing Force

Swindled ages ago from its deeply filed place in the Great Library of Bastion, The Book of Crushing Force has since found itself in countless libraries across the failed cities of the Deep Country. It is said to contain truths so heavy that it could crush the head of the unworthy.

The book, powerful as it is, requires a WIL save to open. A failure will cause the book to assume such tremendous weight that it will drop to the floor, through the floor, and all floors beneath, to the ground, through that ground, and all grounds beneath, to the physical bottom of space and below that.

On a success, the book will provide the character with a single piece of undeniably remarkable campaign knowledge that they may use to destroy the entire fabric of the game world. Once.

Merry Christmas!