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Dwarf vs. kraken

September 22, 2014

I bought a colouring book for my four-year-old nephew and was impressed by this doughty fellow, seeing off a tentacled denizen of the deep with nought but his trusty shovel.


Random referendum result

September 17, 2014

I’m half-Scottish and half-Welsh. I was born in England and grew up in Scotland. I’ve lived and worked north and south of the border – “baith sides o’ the Tweed”, as Burns would say. Hell, I’ve even worked in the Houses of Parliament, lair of the loathed Westminster elite.

My old office

My old office

In a word – and for better or worse – I’m British.

I was going to try and write something about my intellectual and emotional struggles with the approaching referendum on Scottish independence. Other gamers have written cogent and thoughtful pieces on their blogs, and I am broadly sympathetic to their views:

But I’ve left it too late. The people of Scotland – a quite staggering 97% of the electorate has registered to vote – go to the polls tomorrow. (As I write this, it’s a little over seven hours until voting begins.) After agonising for ages, and getting depressed and angry about the conduct of the campaigns, I find myself on the eve of this momentous election in unexpectedly high spirits, and even able to appreciate a certain absurd humour in the notion of a referendum in which millions of people will vote either Yes or No. What’s next? Cats or Dogs? Heads or Tails? Come to think of it, since polls suggest the result will be horribly close, I suggest a coin-toss would be cheaper and a lot less hassle. Or indeed an OSR-approved random table. Roll 1d6:

1. Resounding yes
2. Yes, but…
3. No, but…
4. Categorical no
5. Devo max
6. Goblins (2d6)

See you on the other side, wherever that turns out to be.


One-page dungeon: Tomb of the Mantis Khan

September 3, 2014

Scarmis - Art by Miles TevesHere’s a mini-dungeon I made for the inside of a birthday card. One of my objectives with this adventure was to present undead monsters that might not be immediately identified as such by the players. Don’t describe the mantis-undead as “zombies” or similar, but rather as large insectoid creatures with a fusty aroma, dusty grey-green carapaces and huge, inscrutable eyes. Yes, they’re in a tomb complex, but players of cleric characters should have at least a degree of doubt regarding their ability to “turn” these opponents.

The mantis-folk are based partly on D&D’s thri-kreen but also on Jorune’s scarmis – with a dash of Mongolian flavouring.


Sonic Attack

September 2, 2014


0 of 6 people have a soul (or a sense of humour)

August 15, 2014

My friend Craig spotted this. Enjoy!



Hamlets and Humph

July 22, 2014

Jeff Rients’s table for generating random hamlet names made me snort tea down my nose, and reminded me of something I heard some years ago that caused a similar involuntary (and uncomfortable) explosive nasal exhalation of my midday cuppa.

It was an episode of the long-running BBC Radio 4 comedy programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, recorded before an audience in the city of Nottingham. As was customary, the legendary (and, at the time of which I speak, octogenarian) chairman Humphrey “Humph” Lyttelton opened the show with a short, humorous lecture on the locality, which included these remarks:

It’s well documented in official records that the city’s original name was “Snottingham” or “home of Snotts”, but when the Normans came, they couldn’t pronounce the initial letter “S”, so decreed the town be called “Nottingham” or the “home of Notts”. It’s easy to understand why this change was resisted so fiercely by the people of Scunthorpe.


Jorune: Year One session report (1)

July 6, 2014

Kai Zarin and Smithson observe the arboreal aliens. The creatures, though eyeless, seem to return their scrutiny. They perch among the branches, picking and eating the dark, fist-sized fruit of whatever the hell kind of trees these are. Occasionally one emits a short, sharp screech like fingernails on a blackboard. Smithson, the scientist, knows the creatures for tarro – Jorune natives roughly analogous to Terran monkeys and lemurs. There are several different species; some are dangerous. These ones seem harmless, or at least apathetic. Smithson, Zarin and their two companions leave the tarro to their noisy feast and continue their journey.

Zarin and Smithson are survivors of the short yet devastating Human-Shanthic War. Along with the couple of dozen other colonists who escaped the destruction of the East Basin field station, they have been living hand-to-mouth in an alien forest for several months, ever fearful of renewed assault from surviving shanthas. Kai Zarin is a roguish troubleshooter who worked as a security consultant. She wears deflector armour and has a laser pistol with a single power cell remaining. Smithson was a researcher. He too wears deflector armour, but carries no weapon more advanced than a knife. He does however have a valuable medical kit, and knows how to use it. They are on their way to reconnoitre a stone structure – seemingly abandoned, presumably shanthic – some 20 km from the community’s encampment. They are accompanied by muscle in the stoic, red-shirted shapes of Serafinowicz and Popper.

The day after their encounter with the tarro troop, they reach the mysterious building. It is hexagonal, nine metres across, with a multi-faceted dome. The sole entrance is doorless, and the floor of the single room beyond is carpeted with leaf litter. Small insect-like animals scuttle among the dry leaves and hand-sized spidery things (Smithson identifies them as loosh) inhabit nests of coarse threads near the ceiling. In the centre of the floor, a flight of stairs descends into darkness. Zarin turns on her torch and, treading carefully to avoid disturbing any of the creepy-crawly fauna, the group descends.

At the foot of the stairs is a square chamber nine metres across, cut from the solid rock. Passages lead off to the west, north and east. In the centre of the chamber is a cylindrical stone pedestal, a metre or so tall, carved with abstract linear patterns and with a golf ball-sized depression in its top. Lying on the floor are two small black objects. Upon closer investigation they seem to have some kind of crystalline structure, but they are charred and melted as if by great heat.

Surmising that something should go into the hollow space atop the pillar, Zarin and Smithson search the chamber for a suitable object but find nothing. The crystalline things are somewhat too large and the wrong shape anyway. Smithson tries pouring some water from his survival kit into the depression, with no effect.

Investigating the northern passageway, the party finds that it ends after only six metres. They search for concealed portals but find none. They do notice, however, that the floor of the passage is marked by hair-thin transverse cracks, regularly spaced every 30 cm or so.

They try the passage to the east. After about ten metres it opens into a parallelogram-shaped chamber some nine metres wide by twenty metres or more in length. It appears to be empty, but another passage leads off in a north-westerly direction. Following the passage, which is fifteen or twenty metres in length, Zarin sees soft light ahead and hears muttering voices – they sound like humans, speaking English – and alerts the others. Cautiously, weapons at the ready, the party advances. At the end of the passage is a kite-shaped room approximately eighteen metres by nine. Within are two rather ragged-looking humans, unknown to the party, and a smaller creature that looks something like a plucked gamebird with its eyes on tall, swaying stalks. A pair of stumpy organs on its backside are quivering. Neither Zarin nor Smithson has set eyes on such a being before, but Smithson knows it for a thriddle, a species present on Jorune before the human colonists arrived but whose precise origin is the subject of debate.

The strangers become aware of the party and, startled, the two humans draw weapons. One, a bearded man of middle age, has a laser pistol (immediately attracting Smithson’s acquisitive interest), while his companion, an athletic-looking fellow clad in black and wearing a bandana, flourishes what looks like an antique Japanese sword from Earth.

They stare at the party and the party stares back. The thriddle’s organs quiver apprehensively.



Déjà vu

July 5, 2014

I’ve been looking at the so-called Basic Rules for 5e. Is it just me or is the advantage/ disadvantage rule, wherein you roll two 20-siders and take the higher/lower of the rolls according to your PC’s abilities remarkably similar to the positive/negative double roll mechanic in Christian Mehrstam’s Whitehack, published last year? I’m not implying anything, and I don’t really like the rule in any case. I just found it interesting, that’s all.

AD&D 2e rendered grognard-friendly

July 2, 2014

Apparently, there’s a fifth edition of (A)D&D coming out. It’s a big deal because this edition is designed to appeal to absolutely everyone. Good luck with that, WotC.

Meanwhile some people are still struggling to come to terms with the first major reboot 25 years ago.  AD&D 2e doesn’t get much love in OSR circles. Indeed, it comes in for quite a bit of stick. We hate nonweapon proficiencies, cry the naysayers. Where’s my half-orc assassin? Demons and devils are called tannery and batzoo or something. THAC0 involves subtraction! The artwork is hatefully bland. And so on, and so forth.

But does 2e really stray so far from old-school sensibilities? Does it, in fact, differ much from the Gygaxian splendour of 1e? Let’s take a look at the core books and see if there’s a system in there that a dyed-in-the-wool (yet open-minded) grognard could conceivably enjoy.


Chapter 1: Player Character Ability Scores

Use Method I (3d6 in order) – page 13, column 1. Crybabies use Method V (4d6, drop the lowest, arrange as desired) – page 13, column 2.

Chapter 2: Player Character Races

Use as written. But, you bleat, where is the half-orc? Nowhere, I reply. Just like it’s not in OD&D or Basic D&D and no one complains about that. If you really can’t bear to play anything else, get The Complete Book of Humanoids and play half-orcs, dinosaur-folk and wemics to your heart’s content.

Personally, I’d dump half-elves and probably gnomes too.

Chapter 3: Player Character Classes

Look at page 25, column 1. What does it say in the blue box?

Fighter, mage, cleric, and thief are the standard classes. They are historical and legendary archetypes that are common to many different cultures. Thus they are appropriate to any sort of AD&D game campaign. All of the other classes are optional.

So you don’t like specialist wizards or priests? Don’t panic; they’re optional. Stick with the four core classes. Dump the thief too, if you feel you must – although the 2e thief is probably an improvement on 1e. Add rangers or bards to taste; they’re improved too. But it’s up to you. That’s what optional means.

Chapter 4: Alignment


Chapter 5: Proficiencies (Optional)

Look, there’s that word again. Right in the chapter heading. And underneath (page 51, column 1) it says:

All proficiency rules are additions to the game. Weapon proficiencies are tournament-level rules, optional in regular play, and nonweapon proficiencies are completely optional.

Need I say more?

Chapter 6: Money and Equipment

Note the encumbrance rules on pages 76-79. Guess what? They’re optional.

Chapter 7: Magic

Spell components (pages 85-86) are optional. It’s your call.

Chapter 8: Experience

We’ll come back to this.

Chapter 9: Combat

There are lots of blue boxes filled with optional rules to increase complexity and reduce playability. Ignore  them.

Use THAC0. Don’t like it? Change it. Make combat charts or, if your old-school scruples will let you, convert to ascending AC. It’s easy. For AD&D purposes, 20 – AC = AAC. Then extrapolate the attack bonuses by class from Table 54 (page 91). Here, I’ve made a chart for you. Click to make it (slightly) larger.


Initiative is a bit weird – roll 1d10 per side, low roll wins – but perfectly functional. Either use it as written (applying the modifiers from Table 55) or substitute your favourite version. It’s hard to go wrong with 1d6 per side, high roll wins. Again, ignore everything in blue boxes.

Chapters 10-14 and Appendices

All fine.


Most of the 2e DMG is what Joesky would probably call BLAHBLAH BLAH. For the most part, you can safely ignore it. If it’s in a blue box, be especially wary. Only one thing really concerns us here:

Chapter 8: Experience

There is some tosh in this chapter, it must be said. Experience points for surviving? Er, I don’t think so. XP for “playing intelligently”? Too subjective. XP for achieving “story goals”? Don’t get me started. (You see? I’m a grognard too.)

But wait! After the bit about XP for defeating monsters (which is fine) there’s another one of those blue boxes containing optional rules. You can ignore pretty much everything else in the chapter and pay attention to this little box (page 47, column 3):

As an option, the DM can award XP for the cash value of non-magical treasures. One XP can be given per gold piece, or equivalent, found.

That’s it. That’s everything you need right there.


It’s a monster book. I don’t have much to say about it. As for the wailing and gnashing of teeth about demons and devils being called something different, here’s a thought. Change them back. Happy now?

To sum up, AD&D 2e is already quite grognard-friendly. It’s important to note that the rules are presented in a modular format. Many of the elements that seem to cause some people consternation are entirely optional and clearly labelled as such. It’s a matter of picking and choosing from among those options to achieve the desired play style. The point is, you or I can cheerfully disregard all the rules we don’t like and we are still playing 2e by the book. At its heart, stripped of all those blue boxes, it’s a fairly streamlined iteration of the game, not vastly different in either complexity or tone from B/X, Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry Core.

As for the hatefully bland artwork, with the exception of Tony DiTerlizzi’s fine contributions, I concede the point. I can’t do anything about it. Draw your own succubi.


Jorune: Year One

June 23, 2014

150 years from now
Humans impose their will and technology upon a distant world.

3500 years from now
Man’s rule is ancient history, Earth only a shadowy myth. Humans and other intelligent races survive using technologies and tools of other times and other cultures. Their own inspiring past eagerly awaits discovery beneath millennia of war and regrowth.

3500 years from now is your time on Jorune.

That’s what it says on the back of Skyrealms of Jorune (both the 2e box from Skyrealms Publishing and the 3e book from Chessex).

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

A friend of mine has run games set on Jorune in the colonial era, using Basic Roleplaying. For beginning players and Sholaris, a colony-era campaign is an appealing prospect because it simplifies everything:

  • No furr— er, I mean no “Iscin races” (blount, crugar, woffen, bronth, tologra).
  • No mutants either (boccord, muadra, acubon, salu, trarch), so you’ve already halved the number of sapient species on the planet.
  • No muadra = no caji. Only shanthas and other Jorune-native fauna can use dyshas, meaning you don’t need a complete isho system for the players. This is a boon if you’re using a game system other than Skyrealms of Jorune itself, since isho is a bastard to convert.
  • Humans haven’t been on the planet long enough to know everything about it. The characters’ ignorance of the setting mirrors that of the players, thus avoiding lengthy upfront info dump and leading naturally to exploratory adventures. It’s something like the default “barbarians just off the boat” scenario for introducing Empire of the Petal Throne PCs, except the boat is one of eighty huge spacecraft and the barbarians are colonists from Earth.

Here’s a campaign I’d like to run, if time were unlimited and I didn’t already have too many irons in the fire:

Jorune: Year One

The Earth colony sites have been destroyed by massive blasts of mysterious energy controlled by the shanthas. There were 20,000 colonists; only a fraction – no one knows how many – survived the assault, and they are scattered across Jorune with most of their precious technology ruined. In retaliation, the human scientist Bomoveris released an airborne virus that killed 99% of the shanthas on the planet. For both species, these are desperate days of confusion and fear.

Yes, it’s post-apocalypse Jorune. And, as we all know, the first and best post-apocalypse RPG is Dungeons & Dragons. I’d be tempted to run this thing using a science fiction D&D variant like Stars Without Number or, perhaps even better, X-Plorers.

Postscript: I wrote the above post last week. Last night I ran an introductory game of “Jorune: Year One” wherein the characters, survivors of the short but devastating war, explored a seemingly abandoned structure in the forest and learned something of the ways of the shanthas. The players told me they enjoyed it, so there might be more to follow.




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