Saturday, November 19, 2022

Burn Baby Burn: Simplified Immolation Rule

"Fire is a burning thing..."

A simple and consistent rule for adjudicating when something is set on fire:

If a creature or flammable object takes fire damage ≥4 it is set on fire. 
  • While on fire, it takes d4 fire damage at the end of each of its turns (or the round if it doesn't have a turn), if the damage is ≥4 it continues to burn.
  • If a creature is doused with oil or some other accelerant, they'll take d6 instead of d4 and are consequently much more likely to keep burning for multiple rounds.
  • Taking a turn to stop, drop and roll will put out the fire on humanoids but may not work on especially flammable creatures (e.g. a scarecrow).
Some implications: 

Torches: Usually, the torch is passed off to a hireling or underpowered PC so that they can stand near the back in safety. No more! 
  • Torches deal 1d4 fire damage. If they roll a 1 for damage they go out, if they roll a 4 for damage, they set the target on fire (assuming it is flammable to begin with). 
  • Torches are great vs. a range of threats: Scarecrows, mummies, paper-golems and twig blights. Things with fire vulnerabilities are almost certain to be ignited and will burn up quickly. Furthermore, in my game Shadows, Specters, Phantoms and other incorporeal monsters made of darkness take damage from fire but not from most mundane weapons.

Molotov Cocktails: Throwing flasks of burning oil is a D&D classic. 
  • A burning oil flask deals 1d6 damage to creatures in a ~5' radius. Usually, 2-3 creatures if closely grouped. 

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Magic Mirrors

Disney's Snow White

Magic mirrors are a common trope in myth and fantasy.  Across history and around the world, people have seen mirrors as possessing supernatural power, from Vulcan to Tezcatlipoca.

Trying to tap into that mythic resonance, I've come up with several mirrors to stock dungeons: 

  1. Paralyzing Mirror - This mirror instantly paralyzes anyone who can see any part of their own reflection in it. Escape requires help from someone who avoids looking at their reflection.
  2. Window Mirror - This mirror shows whatever is on the other side of the wall on which it is hung as if it were a window.
  3. Ghost Mirror - This mirror shows ghosts in its reflection. 
  4. Spell Mirror - If any magic user peers into this mirror for one minute, they memorize a single use of the Mirror Image spell (in addition to any other spells they have memorized). If the spell has not been cast by the time the mage sleeps, it fades away. 
  5. Extra Object Mirror -  This mirror shows an object (perhaps a vase etc.) not present in the real world. Finding the object and placing it to match its position in the reflection will unlock a secret door to another part of the dungeon. 
  6. Broken Mirror - One shattered piece is missing (hidden elsewhere in the dungeon) but if the mirror is reassembled, a floating face appears and will answer any one question for each person that stands before it. 
  7. Reflecting Pond - The surface of this small pool is agitated by a large and active fish that darts about in the water. If the fish is removed or stilled, the water will settle and show scenes of the distant past. 
  8. Paired Mirrors - If the scenes reflected in these two mirrors match (aside from any living things) a person can step into one mirror and out of the other like a magic portal.  
Still Snow White

Friday, November 4, 2022

Monster/Hazard: Powder Moth


Under the earth, beyond the reach of the sun's rays, where light is precious and maintaining torches and lanterns is a matter of life and death, the powder moth is a fearsome pestilence. 


By the standards of terrestrial moths (of the sort well known to surface-dwellers), powder moths are enormous*. Fully grown, each is the size of a mid-sized dog with a wingspan wider than a man's outstretched arms. 

Powder moths are drawn ineluctably to light and if they come into direct contact with open flame they explode violently. 

Powder Moth

Armor Class: 8 (unarmored)

Hit Dice: 1-1 (HP2)

Attacks: None, see Special

Move: Fly x2 speed of unencumbered human

Saves: 15+

Morale: Drawn to light, avoids all other contact

Number Appearing: 1d6

Treasure: Corpse is worth 100GP to an alchemist.

Special: Drawn to any light source and explodes on contact with open flame dealing d6 blast damage to all creatures in immediate proximity. Enclosed flames (e.g. glass lantern) won't detonate moths but moths will collide with the light source repeatedly.


Powder moths infest subterranean areas and feed on Yellow Mold (a la AD&D Monster Manual). 

Although they are reviled by torchbearers and linkboys, delvers often hesitate to exterminate populations of moths because their removal typically results in rapid fungal expansion. 

The wings of dead moths can be carefully ground to produce a black powder used in the production of grenades and as propellant for cannons. It is rumored that the Imperial legions farm powder moths in depleted mines to supply their artillery. 

bowelfly on tumblr

*Powder moths (and other large chthonic moths) are dwarfed by the truly titanic moths that live in the outer void, with bodies large enough to host cities.


I've been trying to come up with some unique low-level monsters for my wandering monster tables. I want adversaries that are hazard/challenges rather than just HP piles to chop through. 

The presence of powder moths adds a layer of consideration (the ever-popular torch & molotov load-out becomes a risky move) that should make an area feel distinct.

The first time these are encountered they'll be a real threat. Explosion followed by darkness. 

Once the party has figured out a strategy to defeat them, they become a resource rather than a danger. I can imagine all sorts of PC schemes to hunt moths for their explosive potential.  

Sunday, August 14, 2022

All the Doors Round Here

 Weird doors in dungeons are fun. 

Top view map

A large stone disk, well balanced on a central axis, spins within a round cutout. Alcoves cut into the disk allow a person to move with the disk and transit between rooms. 

  • The disk only spins one way. 
  • Each alcove only accommodates one person.
  • A full revolution will take about a minute. The stone is heavy.
Why this is great:
  • It's an easily solved obstacle, with many possible variations
  • The door prevents rapid retreat of adventuring groups, prompting hard choices
A few nifty alternatives: 

Monday, September 13, 2021

What I Learned from the Beastly Boys

A few weeks ago, I submitted an entry into Prince of Nothing's "No-Artpunk Contest". The final outcome of the contest is still pending, but Prince has provided his judgment on my entry and his assessment has been augmented by several critiquing comments from the Fundamentalist tribe. 

I enjoyed putting together a dungeon within the contest constraints and I learned a lot from the process  and the critique my entry received. 

Where I Fit

The conceit of this contest pits two branches of the OSR tree against each other. On one side, the Art-punks, and on the other an un-named group that I think of as the D&D fundamentalists. 

Although Prince describes me as a "self-professed Artpunk connoisseur" I do not think of myself as a member of that camp. My adventures don't include reflections on the nature of deep-time or parodic personifications of debt-slavery. I'm not trying to sell my dungeon maps at Fredericks and Freiser. 

The adventures I make are not deeply conceptual, they're mostly in keeping with the mainstream of old-fashioned D&D.... Fight smugglers in caves, clear a haunted lighthouse, explore a temple, plunder a burial mound.

However, I'm clearly not a Fundamentalist either. I don't run my games with the received Rules As Written and my games' procedures are pretty loosy-gooosy. I eagerly kit-bash on bits and pieces from all sorts of other rule sets be they actually old rules (i.e. B/X), modern-trad (i.e. 5e) or the various indie/story-games (i.e. Apocalypse World). 

I hang out in OSR spaces because I like a lot of the content being made, but my actual game is at most 50% old-school. 

I think of myself as an ultra-heterodox Universal Harvester. 

The Module 

My entry, Baleful Bastion of the Beastly Boys is my attempt at creating a low-level, bog standard but still fun dungeon. Prince compares it to T1: The Village of Hommlet's Moat House dungeon and it's an apt comparison as this is precisely what I'm trying to emulate and riff on. 

The presentation of my dungeon differs significantly from what you'd find in the adventures from the actual Old School days. I tried to model the layout on the DM notes in my notebook rather than the (to my eyes) kludgy, dense paragraphs of early modules. 

My hope was to keep what was good about the old modules while updating the functionality of the text. 

The Review

Prince's thorough review was super useful to me. It highlighted several weaknesses in my adventure and perhaps even more interesting, held a spotlight on several areas where my priorities differ pretty widely with the Fundamentalist OSR orthodoxy. 


Prince begins: 

There is all sorts of fuckery going on with the format, and the liberal use of bullet points, the squiggly room titles in the actual rooms and the descriptions that are irregularly spaced around it... The black hand weighs on Beastly Boys’ presentation like a millstone.

I'm going to have to disagree with Prince here pretty strongly. Is my formatting pretty? No. Is it radically more functional than the original stuff. Absolutely yes. 

Prince brought up Hommlet as a point of comparison. It's among the most beloved old modules and it's one that I've actually run. 

This is a nightmare.

As presented, Hommlet is a pain in the ass. It requires a significant amount of careful pre-reading, preparation and re-statement to be playable. I used the invaluable cliff-notes maps prepped by Daniel of ggnore podcast fame but if they hadn't been available, I'd have needed to make something similar for myself. 

Prince continues:

The format does allow a great deal of information to be conveyed on each page in a manner that can be perused reasonably well, but some of the innovation is questionable. I see little information being gained from using the room title instead of the more sensible numbered room keys

Having played flip-around-the-module games with the OG Hommlet, I couldn't disagree more. The arrow references are much easier to read at the table. That said, I had meant to include room numbers in addition to assist with cross-reference, i.e. "The ogre will move from here to Room 2: Guard Post" You can see on my maps that I started numbering the rooms on the ground floor and forgot to include them later on. 

Dungeon Architecture: 

Prince says:

It is more or less understood that if you make a dungeon map it need not confirm 100% to a realistic depiction of ancient architecture. We are often willing to suspend disbelief about the myriad architectural inefficiencies of a temple as long as it has an altar, the high priest has some quarters and there is some sort of inner sanctum. With fortresses I feel one needs to be a bit more stringent, and Bastion has the problem that its architecture doesn’t make that much sense. Some more castle-like features (a wall, a moat, a courtyard etc. even if broken) would have added some verisimilitude to the thing. Adding some (semi) empty chambers or storerooms would also have given the bastion a bit more room to breathe, making it feel less cramped.

I mostly agree with this on principle. A little more review of actual castles and a little more empty space could improve the map. On the other hand, real castle layouts are often TOO defensible. They incorporate so many bottlenecks, dead-ends and cul de sacs that they don't always offer the flow of a properly Jaquay-ed space. 

While we're throwing stones at irrational architecture, let's do a little compare and contrast:

Three real castle floor plans

Neither of these is quite realistic but I feel like one might be a little bit closer to actual castle architecture:

Left: Hommlet, Right: Beastly Boys

Jonathan Becker suggested UK3: The Guantlet as an exemplary old-school keep and it looks rad. Definitely, going to check it out. 

Map Tools

Prince's comment: 

The map has no scale. Scale, fixed distance, scope, resources, consequences. This is the thin line between playing AD&D and playing fucking Dungeon World. The lack of a scale is all the more lamentable because the adventure does something good, it places a great deal of treasure in a hidden vault in the basement that can be discerned if the PCs do proper mapping…but how can they map properly if there is no scale? A shame. Doors are not marked on the map, even when they clearly should be.

Later in the comments he continues: 

 I will say that a scale is recommended, and for a dungeon I consider it almost a necessity (to measure Turns). You can omit it but that in turn fucks with movement which fucks with encumberance etc. etc. It’s not a disaster but I can think of few occasions when scaling a map does not improve it.

From Jonathan, also in the comments:

The scale thing definitely hurts. 

I was blindsided by the importance that the true old-schooler's placed on a rigid scale. For me, precise room dimensions are not at all important. I run my random encounters based on number of rooms traversed, not by counting feet moved. 

I understand that there's a branch of old-school play that celebrates meticulous player mapping but if my players ever spend twenty minutes carefully graphing out the exact dimensions of a room, I'll quit D&D. Life is too short for tedious geometry fidgeting. 

All that said, adding a scale takes two minutes and if it helps make my dungeons more useful to a broad range of other DMs, I'm happy to do it.  

The comment on doors.... 100% mea culpa. It's a big oversight and significantly weakens my map. 


From Prince: 

My last major gripe is the treasure... none of the treasure is concealed, and some of the treasure is just TABLE C IN THE OSE DMG. NO. THE PITS OF DESPAIR FOR THEE! ...Mundane treasure and mundane creatures need not be boring, but giving only a table references will guarantee that this is the case.

From Jonathan Becker: 

When picking up a pre-written adventure for use at the table, I think there’s some practicality in having thoughtful, appropriate loot pre-placed by the adventure’s author. If I were running a module that referred me to random treasure tables (and assuming that I still wanted to run the thing for my group), the first thing I’d do is nail down what’s present BEFORE play began. The “surprise at the table” thing? Mm. Not worth the potential headache.

I totally agree with these criticisms. My use of OSE table treasure was an attempt to ape the style of old modules and frankly it sucks. Coming up with better treasure would definitely make the adventure better. I wrote a "Search the Body" table (a new-OSR standby) that I think is pretty good and supplementing it with a d10 table of flavorful larger treasures would have been easy to do and worthwhile. 


This contest was a blast. I doubt I'll make it into the final winners' circle but I'm really glad I participated. 

The Fundamentalist branch of the OSR has a lot to offer when it comes to adventure design and critique and I'm grateful to have gotten their perspective on one of my creations. I am really enjoying reading the commentary on the other entries too and I think the comment sections on these posts have been robust and productive. 

The ways we differ in what we want an adventure to do seem to exemplify what Gus L highlighted in a post a few months back. I think the shorter sessions I play (2-3 hours) often with limited time for prep on game-day (I make my dungeons at leisure, often months before use) give me little patience for block text and fidgeting with room sizes. I need to be able to pick something up and run with it without pre-reading. Additionally, I play online and reveal a map piecemeal as players progress so they don't need to map precisely (a fairly core activity in certain branches of old school play). 

I hope this is merely the first of many opportunities for us to share our dungeons for them to be picked apart by the old-guard. The old-school is a good place to learn and I'll jump at the chance to get their help in honing my dungeon-making craft.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

No-Art, Punk Contest: Baleful Bastion of the Beastly Boys

Broo - I wasn't able to identify the artist

Download my Free Adventure: 

Baleful Bastion of the Beastly Boys

Princeofnothing, a fellow with large opinions, and a fondness for the Old Ways, is hosting a dungeon design contest, an undertaking which he dubs the "No-Artpunk Contest!"

The design brief: 20-30 rooms stocked with book items and book monsters for a 0e - 1e D&D (or clone) system. 5 -20 pages. "Presentation and layout should be whatever you want. Worddoc, Plain text or Paint. Homemade maps, terrible self-drawn paint art, is all welcome."

Now, to be sure, I tend to be a fan of much of what is labeled artpunk in the old-school-ish D&D scene. I backed the new Patrick kickstarter the day it became available (you should back it too!) and I ran a 20+ session Mork Borg campaign. However, I am a sucker for a contest and constraints inspire creativity. 

In preparing an entry, I decided to full embrace the Fundamentalist D&D ethos and produce an adventure that uses the most basic possible monsters, in the most basic possible set up and try to imbue it with fun solely through the clever arrangement of situations, traps and monster tactics. The adventure should work, swapping out all of the monsters for different ones. 

For the layout, I took my cues from the spare, functionality of DM prep notes rather than the verbose, blocky text of early modules. My hope is that the brevity and convenience of the layout would let most DMs run this without even reading it all the way through first (though reading it will take 10 mins max). 

Anyhow, whether or not the Nihilian Potentate appreciates my efforts, I like the little castle I have created and hope that folks enjoy it.