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Petty Gods in corporeal form

May 23, 2015

The postie tried to deliver this yesterday, but it wouldn’t fit through my letterbox (you can see why!) so I had to go and collect it from the sorting office this morning. Unfortunately then I had to go to work, so I’ve only had time to glance through the pages, but what I’ve seen so far is pretty bloomin’ marvellous.




After all these years, it is a treat to behold Petty Gods in the flesh, as it were. I will have more to say anon.

Remember, you can get a copy (hardback, paperback or FREE PDF) from one of the links here.

Expanded Petty Gods is out now

May 18, 2015

EPG-PDF-CoverPreviewIn case you haven’t already heard, after a long and fitful series of events and processes – conception, gestation, stagnation, revivification, presentation (as Original Petty Gods), revision and expansion – Petty Gods is now available in hardback or paperback formats (at cost) or as a PDF (absolutely free)! This thing is almost 400 pages long, and those pages are stuffed to the gunwales with godlings, minions and servitors, divine items, spells and, er, foodstuffs (black death pudding, anyone?) to weird up your old-school fantasy RPG of choice.

Doubtless I’ll have more to say when my hardback copy arrives and I can read this thing properly. (I’m not a fan of PDFs, although when they’re free I certainly don’t complain.) Meanwhile, hats aloft if you will to Blair Fitzpatrick, James Maliszewski, Peter Gifford, Greg Gorgonmilk, Matthew W. Schmeer and Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., whose ideas and (appropriately herculean) efforts have brought forth this behemoth from the combined imaginations of the old-school role-playing community, much as the Greek gods split open the braincase of Zeus to bring forth Athena. Or something.

Get your copy here.

Trouble in Trollwood: An Old Norse-inspired adventure for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day

April 17, 2015


Gamers & Grognards is hosting/coordinating this year’s Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day. I am pleased to participate.

Last time we did this, I wrote about my love for Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox and posted one of my “daft wee dungeons” written for that system. This time around, for the sake of variety, I present a mini-hexcrawl adventure written for the S&W Core Rules. Naturally, being S&W, it’s playable with any TSR-era version of D&D or clone or whatever, with (at most) minor tweaking.

That’s one of the reasons Swords & Wizardry appeals to me; it’s simple and consequently extremely flexible. Tweaking the rules is easy, and it’s actively encouraged throughout the text. One only has to look at the range of games that have sprouted from the fertile soil of S&W – including John M. Stater’s Blood & Treasure and Pars Fortuna, Christian Mehrstam’s Whitehack and Dave Bezio’s X-Plorers – to appreciate the extent to which one can “genetically engineer” Matt Finch’s creation, producing “designer baby” games in a variety of genres and styles.

Both of this blog’s regular readers will know that I’m fond of the Icelandic sagas and all things Norse. They may also recall that I hold David “Zeb” Cook’s Vikings sourcebook for AD&D 2e in high regard. That book, and each of the other similar volumes produced at the time, struggled (and mostly succeeded) to tweak and twist the AD&D rules to fit a particular historical milieu. They were, at least in part, collections of setting-specific house rules. That sort of thing is immeasurably quicker and easier to do with Swords & Wizardry.

Hence my Old Norse campaign notes.

You can use those house rules to play “Trouble in Trollwood” if you want to enhance the distinctive Old Norse flavour. However, nothing in the adventure assumes that you will.

That’s enough blether. Here’s “Trouble in Trollwood”, an adventure inspired by the Eddas and some of the fornaldarsögur. It’s suitable for a party of 4th- and/or 5th-level characters. I hope you enjoy it.


Edit: Damn. Just spotted a mistake in Isgerd’s spell list. It’s fixed now. If you’re one of the first five people to download the PDF, you might want to do it again. Apologies.

Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day 2015 – Spread the word!

April 12, 2015

If you don’t already know, R.J. Thompson at Gamers & Grognards is hosting Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day this year. Hats off to R.J.! The last one, curated by Erik Tenkar two years ago, was a roaring success, producing a veritable cornucopia of old-school gaming goodness tailored to fit S&W. (If you missed it, a list of links to 144 contributing blogs can be found here.)

This year, the date for your diary is the 17th of April. That’s this Friday. If you want to participate, get in touch with R.J. soon. Complete instructions here.

Last time, I extolled some of the many virtues of the Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules and threw in a mini-dungeon adventure to boot. Expect another adventure this year, but this time it’s a bit different. It’s a mini-hexcrawl, for a start.

Meanwhile, spread the word!





March 14, 2015

I disapprove of having music playing during RPG sessions. When I’m writing and prepping adventures it’s fine and dandy (though I choose carefully to create or enhance whatever mood I’m striving for) but I find it intrusive and distracting when I’m actually playing a game.

Not everyone feels this way. Luckily for me, one of the people who didn’t was Dave, GM of perhaps the most enjoyable campaign I’ve been involved with. In 1986-87, Dave ran a Stormbringer campaign called “Sundial”, inspired by this Rodney Matthews painting:


Dave played background music while Exendar the merchant, Lemi the barbarian and Yokraith of Melniboné, sorcerer and all-round bastard, pursued their exploits in the Young Kingdoms. His tastes ran to Boston and Styx, as I recall, then one evening he put on something that made me sit up and take notice. (See, I told you music was distracting.) Floaty, trippy avant-jazz-rock with shout-out-loud awesome drumming. Male and female vocals intoning incomprehensible lyrics about Radio Gnome and “love projectors”. Whimsical spoken sections. Prostitute poems. Curiouser and curiouser. “Would you like some tea?”

It was the album Angel’s Egg – my introduction to the green/invisible planet Gong, its mythology and its Earthly emissaries the Pot-Head Pixies. I hitched a ride aboard a flying teapot, took a trip along the Oily Way and never looked back.

Some years later, after seeing Dances With Wolves, my friend Rob (who played Yokraith in that campaign) bestowed upon me my “Sioux name” – Listens To Gong. I bear it (and a small Gong badge) with pride to this day.

Chief among those musical visitors from a happier sphere was poet, composer, singer and glissando guitarist Daevid Allen, who died of cancer yesterday, aged 77 but retaining to the end that child-like, playful-profound, optimistic outlook that informed and enhanced all his work. Obituary here.

Given that Gong’s most significant and enduring work – the Radio Gnome “trilogy” consisting of the albums Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You – was recorded and released in 1973-74, I wouldn’t mind betting that some early D&D campaigns (in the UK at least) were influenced by the saga of Zero the Hero, Captain Capricorn, et al. Surely somewhere, buried in old files and faded jotters, someone has game stats for the Octave Doctors and their Crystal Machine. I know one game designer at least who, somewhat later, was inspired by the mythos; here’s part of the map from Garry Robson’s Faerie Wood RPG:


If any of this means anything to you, then I urge you to put a flying teapot (“green as an emerald in the blue”) in your next game session. You can even have your characters feed fish and chips to a witch’s pussy if you like; I don’t know how your games work.

I don’t have much more to say. Farewell to Daevid Allen (aka Bert Camembert, Dingo Virgin, Divided Alien, etc.) – countercultural prankster, creative artist, psychedelic troubadour, founding member of Soft Machine, father and figurehead of the extended Gong family, a man who made the world a more interesting, colourful, joyful place.

Have a cup of tea. Have another one. Have a cup of tea.


Daevid Allen (1938-2015)


Bird-folk for Alien Orifice

January 5, 2015

Happy New Year! I have made a rash resolution, to wit: my Alien Orifice campaign (you know, the one I’ve been banging on about for two and a half years) will debut before the end of February 2015.

I have a folder full of notes and maps. It’s time to pull things together into playable form and set some PCs loose on Inanna to explore, fight and die horribly win treasure.

The inspirational sources for the campaign are three-fold, like so:


See if you can work out where these fellows fit in.


Intelligent avian aliens, they resemble humanoid birds. They are intensely curious, and many become adventurers and soldiers of fortune like humans. Bird-folk have all the abilities of a robber (of a level equal to the creature’s Hit Dice), minus the climbing ability (they can fly). They communicate telepathically among themselves but not with outsiders. Since they do not speak, communication with non-bird-folk consists of elementary sign language. Lots of pointing, in other words.

HD 2 (base); AC 5 [14]; AT 1 weapon (by weapon); MV 6 (flying 18); AL N.

A bird-bloke deftly appropriates an IOUN stone from a distracted wizard.

A bird-bloke deftly appropriates an IOUN stone from a distracted wizard.

Claw’s Carvery 1: Free PDF zine thing featuring the least worst bits of this blog

December 28, 2014

I trust your Yuletide festivities passed merrily. Perhaps you overindulged. I understand; those roasted parsnips were irresistible. Fear not, dear bloated reader! A visit to Claw’s Carvery won’t add a single pound to your already grotesque bulk. For the Carvery is but a weightless electronic document compiling a few mini-adventures and other assorted bits (and indeed bobs) from this humble blog.

Mini-adventures! – Tomb of the Mantis Khan and Ynys Bach
Magic items! – Flute of the Forest and Prebasang’s Melancholy Marionette
Random tables! – Villainous cognomens and drifting vessels (expanded)
Old Norse gubbins! – Grim Aegir and duelling rules for Norse campaigns
OGL! – Everything is statted for the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules.

20+ pages of reheated giblets. You’re welcome!




The Comb

December 19, 2014

I’ve been reading A Red & Pleasant Land and enjoying the gags in the bestiary chapter.

I also appreciate Zak’s reading/viewing/listening list (“Things to Read and Look At”, p. 27.) and his remarks regarding tone (“The Unreasonable”, p. 28). The mood of cock-eyed Carrollian logic, the Eastern European aesthetic and the recurring motifs of dreams, doubles, mirrors and topsy-turvy gravity-defying architectural space all put me in mind of the mysterious, oneiric films of the Quay Brothers, especially “The Comb” from 1990. Add this gem to your viewing list, right after Švankmajer.

Christmas has come early

December 16, 2014

… and it is red and pleasant.


Thank you, Jim of Finland. And thank you, Zacques des Sabatons. This book is every bit as classy and beautiful as we were led to believe.


Nanoblock stegosaur for scale, obviously.




If you want A Red & Pleasant Land for yourself, dear reader, then I suggest you get your skates on. As of this writing, there are fewer than 150 copies (from a print run of 3000) remaining in the LotFP store.

Now I’m off to read as much of the book as I can before I have to go to work.

Hólmganga: Duelling rules for Old Norse campaigns

November 19, 2014

I don’t use Trollsmyth’s popular Shields Shall be Splintered! house rule in my games. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with it, but simply because my players gravitate towards magic-user and thief characters – hence, no shields. Anyway, while thinking about Old Norse roleplaying, I realised there was a perfect context for the rule, or a variant thereof.

In the Icelandic sagas, the concept of personal honour is of paramount importance as character motivator and driver of plot. Offences against a person’s honour may include such things as insults, slander, infringement on another’s property, or physical assault. The laws of the land are supposed to deal with such matters and the favoured outcome is some form of arbitration and, ultimately, reconciliation. Human nature being what it is, such a peaceful resolution is not always achieved, nor even desired by the participants in all cases, and a cycle of violence, once initiated, escalates into a blood feud. While this is disastrous for those involved, it makes for exciting narrative so it’s good news for the saga reader.

Before the start of the eleventh century when the practice was abolished, Iceland’s laws also allowed the wronged party to seek redress by challenging the offender to a duel. Two kinds of duel are mentioned in the sagas. The first, einvigi, refers to men meeting in single combat to settle a matter of honour, which may occur independently of third-party interference or adjudication. One example is the fight between Bjarni of Hof and the eponymous hero of The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck, in which the antagonists acquit themselves decently and honourably, neither man exploiting any unfair advantage over the other despite the absence of witnesses. The other, more formal type of duel is called hólmganga (“island-going”) and is conducted according to strict rules. The fullest account of these rules is given in Kormak’s Saga, which features several duelling scenes. In the guidelines that follow, I don’t try to incorporate all the details of the hólmganga ritual – which in any case differ from one text to the next – but rather to provide a playable model for Norse duelling in old-school games that captures some of the flavour of the literary sources.

[Note: For no other reason than that of brevity, I use the masculine pronoun throughout.]

If a character is challenged to a duel and declines to fight or fails to turn up at the specified time and place, then he loses honour and is diminished in the esteem of the local populace, including his retainers or other supporters. The Referee decides how this is made manifest in the campaign. I have seen attempts to introduce systems of “honour points” and the like, which might work well provided the bookkeeping isn’t too onerous. My preference would be a simple penalty on reaction/morale rolls. A penalty of -2 is certainly warranted for backing down in the face of a challenge. Naturally, if this method is chosen, the Referee should also be prepared to hand out bonuses to characters who attain significant honour by their deeds.

If the challenge is accepted, then a time and location must be mutually agreed by the participants. Two or three days are usually deemed sufficient for preparation. The participants must also agree on arms and armour. Shields are mandatory, even for characters who don’t normally use them. One-handed swords and battle axes are the most commonly used weapons. The participants need not both employ the same type of weapon.

The duel may take place on a small island suited to the purpose, but more often the hólm is metaphorical and artificial: a spread cloak, five ells square, pegged out on the ground. Beyond the outer edges of the cloak, a further space is defined by the placing of strings, or hazel-poles, to mark the outer perimeter of the duelling-ground. If a participant sets one foot outside the perimeter he is considered to be retreating; if he puts both feet outside he is running, and has forfeited the duel – and his honour, with consequences as described above.

When all is prepared, the duel begins. The participants enter the duelling-ground and take turns striking each other. At this point we depart from the abstract combat system common to old-school games and enter a more concrete, detailed mode, with characters trading individual blows. Don’t bother with combat rounds, especially not if yours are a minute long. Don’t roll for initiative; the challenged character goes first, while the challenger tries to defend himself with his shield. Since the latter is not trying to attack but only avoid damage, he is considered to be fighting defensively and gains a -2 bonus to AC. (Or use the rules for defensive fighting, if any, in your game system of choice.)

If the blow connects, the defending character may choose to sacrifice his shield to avoid sustaining any damage. (This can be automatically successful – my preference – or the Referee may require a successful saving throw.) Each participant is allowed three shields; if all three are destroyed, he must defend himself with his weapon. He still gains the -2 AC bonus for fighting defensively.

[Option: The participants may elect “seconds” to hold their shields for them, instead of holding their own. If the “second” belongs to a character class not normally able to use shields, then no AC bonus is granted, though the shield may still be used to avoid damage, as above. If all three allowed shields are destroyed, the “second” retires from the duelling-ground and the participant must use his weapon to parry, as described above.]

Whenever a participant sustains damage, there is a 2 in 6 chance (alternatively, a 10% chance per point of damage sustained) that his blood falls on the cloak. If this happens, the bleeding character may elect to retire from the duel by paying a ransom of three marks of silver (48 gp) to his opponent, who is then declared the victor. The loser suffers a diminution in personal honour as outlined above.

The duel continues, turn by turn, until one of the following conditions is met:

– One participant is killed or, for whatever reason, can no longer fight.
– One participant retreats or runs from the duelling-ground.
– One participant pays a ransom to retire from the duel.
– Both participants agree to stop fighting.


Asmund has been challenged to a hólmganga by Bjorn, over a perceived insult. Both men are 4th-level fighters, wear leather armour and wield swords. At the appointed time, the duel begins.

As the challenged party, Asmund strikes first. He needs 13 to hit Bjorn’s AC 4 (leather + shield + defensive bonus). He rolls 2: a clumsy stroke, easily parried by Bjorn.

It is Bjorn’s turn to strike. He also needs to roll 13 or more. The roll is 6. Asmund parries.

Asmund rolls 4. Bjorn rolls 18, which is a hit unless Asmund sacrifices his shield – which he does, avoiding damage. Bjorn waits while Asmund drops the shattered shield and takes up another.

Asmund rolls 11. Better, but still not good enough to trouble Bjorn. Bjorn rolls 9.

Asmund rolls 19, and Bjorn sacrifices his shield. “That was a heavy blow,” he says. He takes up his second shield and strikes again, rolling 12.

Asmund rolls 7. Bjorn rolls 17 and Asmund, breathing hard, now takes up his third and last shield. “Things are not going as well as I expected,” he mutters grimly.

The unlucky Asmund rolls 3. Bjorn rolls 18. Asmund’s shield is splintered and now he must defend himself with his sword alone. His AC is now 5.

He swings at Bjorn and rolls 13. Bjorn sacrifices his second shield. Bjorn then aims a blow at Asmund, rolls 12 and hits, doing 4 points of damage. The Referee rolls to see if any drops of Asmund’s blood fall on the cloak. They do. There is murmuring among the spectators. Asmund glares at Bjorn, who still has a shield to spare, considers his options, and hurls his sword to the ground. “Luck is not on my side today,” he says, pays three marks of silver to release himself from the duel, and goes home in a foul mood. He will also have to pay Bjorn compensation for the original insult and suffer whatever penalty the Referee decides to impose on his reputation.


Finally, here are some situations that might lead to a duel in a Norse-flavoured campaign:

– An NPC claims that the PCs have stolen something.

– An NPC insults a PC or claims that the PC insulted him.

– The PCs have (knowingly or otherwise) killed the servants of a powerful and hot-tempered local chieftain. The chieftain demands compensation. If a large cash settlement is not immediately forthcoming, he challenges the best fighter in the party to a duel.

– In a heated theological debate, a Norse cleric challenges a cleric of another faith to a duel over Freyja’s honour.

– An arrogant professional dueller has demanded a farmer’s youngest (and favourite) daughter as his bride. Having refused, the old man faces a duel in three days. One of the PCs might volunteer to fight in his stead (assuming the dueller accepts this), especially if the farmer has something of value to give.


Kormak’s Saga, in Sagas of Warrior-Poets, Penguin, 2002.

The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Struck, in The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, Penguin, 2000.


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