Simple Treasure table for B/X

While I am generally a fan of having characters gain experience based not only on the amount of enemies they defeat in battle but also on how many treasures they retrieved during the adventure, dealing with individual gold pieces always seemed too fiddly to me.

My preffered way to handle treasure both in regard to wealth and encumbrance is to use a simple unit of “1 treasure”. As long as characters still have 1 treasure, they can buy any items and services of trivial costs, such as food, drink, a room in an inn, most weapons, and so on. Anything that is too expensive for most common people to affort cost 1 treasure, such as a horse, chainmal armor, or a boat. As a rule of thumb, every treasure is worth about 100 gold pieces and can consists either of a bag of coins, a large golden cup, a crown, or whatever else the GM wants to describe it like. It also counts as 1 item for calculating encumbrance. (A character carrying items numbering up to their Strength score are unencumbred and can carry twice as much being lightly encumbred and three times as much being heavily encumbred.)

The treasure tables in the Basic and Expert sets of Dungeons & Dragons give various chances and amounts for different types of coins and gems, so using this alternative treasure system while retaining the same rate of experience gain requires some conversion work.

Which I did. Here’s the result.

snapshot123Type J and type P to S are not on this table as their average results are way below 100 gp.

Zeb Cook on Sandbox campaigns

While doing a full readthrough of the 1980 Expert Set, I came upon this little paragraph in the Introduction chapter. (Which probably a huge number of people never read.)

Most important, the characters in the wilderness campaign do not exist in a vacuum. The DM should have events going on elsewhere that may affect (or be affected by) the actions of the players. There may be any number of “plots” going on at once, and the DM should try to involve each player in some chain of events. These should develop logically from the actions of those involved. It is important not to force the action to a pre-determined conclusion. The plot lines can always be adjusted for the actions of the players.

Emphasis not mine.

This isn’t any world shattering wisdom here, but you could easily call it the most condensed explanation of the current consensus regarding sandbox campaigns, especially among OSR grognards. Even with all the dozens of articles written on the topic and probably thousands of forum posts, it doesn’t really seem like we’ve discovered anything truly new about the understanding of how these types of games work. It’s all aready there, 35 years ago. This quote even predates the release of X1: The Isle of Dread by a few months, so he was talking about something most people actually hadn’t heard of before.

Strange that I’ve never seen this quote in any discussions about sandbox campaigns before.

Why so little love for Group Initiative?

Among the many great things of Basic D&D, one that stands out the most for me is the initiative system. I find it so much better than the commonly used by other editions and even most B/X clones.

A wonderful thing about group initiative is that it completely removes the whole work of remembering the initiative order. I absolutely hate it to scribble down a list of all the PCs and enemies in the correct order at the beginning of each fight. That’s always a minute or so of interruption doing something tedious, right at the most exciting moment of the game. The alternative is to write down the names in advance and make a row of numbers with the initiative counts, but then you easily skip someone by accident all the time. (At least I do.) With group initiative that doesn’t matter. You roll two d6 at the beginning of each round and then everyone goes in whatever order they want.

But I think something even much more important is happening on the player side. Everyone is paying attention all the time and taking turns much faster. Nobody is sitting around three numbers until their number comes up.
The players who decide the fastest what they want to do go first, and those who take longer do their thinking while everyone else is taking their turn. And everyone needs to pay attention during the whole enemy turn, because the next turn is always their turn.

I’ve been using this system for a while, and it’s just so much more fun to run the game, and I believe for the players as well. Why doesn’t everyone use it and most games go with individual initiative counts instead? Even such otherwise great games as Basic Fantasy and Lamentations of the Flame Princess and wonderful ones like Spears of the Dawn and Barbarians of Lemuria (not a B/X clone, but still) go with the cumbersome initiative count system. Which to me really has always been one of the most annoying thing about running games.

Encumbrance and Treasure

I am not usually someone who does any kind of accounting for fun, so dealing with treasure and equipment generally is done very quick and simple in my campaigns.

The encumbrance system is almost taken directly from the one created by LS at Papers and Pencils, which I really like. (Yes, when you post mechanics on your website, sometimes there will actually be people using it.) The treasure system is my own creation, as far as I can recall. It’s a slight variant of the one I came up with for tying character advancement to loot in Barbarians of Lemuria.


Encumbrance works very simple. All items have a weight of either 1, or 2, or none. Characters can carry a number of items equal to their Strength score with no penalty. They can carry a number of items equal to twice their Strength score while being lightly encumbred, and up to three times their Strength score while being heavily encumbred.

Characters who are lightly encumbred have their movement speed reduced by one category and have all the penalties for wearing medium armor. (Limits to using certain skills and spell point cost for casting spells.)

Characters who are heavily encumbred have their movement speed reduced by two categories and have all the penalties for wearing heavy armor.

If an object is so large and heavy that it would take both hands to hold and carry, it counts as two normal items and has a weight of 2. Objects lighter than a dagger are not counted towards encumbrance. It’s left to the GM to decide when a larger number of smaller objects counts as one item. A pound or half a kilo of stuff probably is a good limit.

As they are likely to come up often, a quiver with 12 arrows, food for one day, and water for one day should all be treated as having a weight of 1 each, regardless of how they are stored.

To track encumbrance, a good idea is to have an inventory list in which all the rows are numbered. You can then mark at which row the limits for light encumbrance, heavy encumbrance, and maximal load are reached, based on your character’s Strength. For items with weights greater than 1, simply cross out the line below it. When you get over any of those limits, you simply see it immediately as the list passes over the marked lines.


The standard unit of wealth is “1 treasure”. A treasure could be many things, but generaly has a weight and a value of 1. A small bag of silver coins being the standard example. But it could also be jewelry, gemstones, golden cups, or whatever. For special occasions you can also have special treasures which weigh nothing or have a value greater than 1. The huge diamond from the crown of the high priest may easily have a value of 5 or 10, while a gold ring with a saphire might have a weight of none. But these are not usually found lying around in ruins or in the pockets of bandits.

There are no price lists. As long as you have at least one treasure with you, you can get whatever weapons, shields, food, rooms, and other small expanses you want. If you have no treasure with you, you’re broke and have to either get some valuables somewhere or get creative in acquiring equipment and supplies. Greater expanses usually cost 1 treasure. It could be a mount, a lavish feast, a cart, or other mundane but expensive things. Armor is more expensive and costs 1 treasure per point of Armor Class bonus (an AC +4 armor would cost 4 treasures).

Magic potions also generally cost 1 treasure each and are probably one of the most common expenses. More powerful magic items don’t come with a fixed price. They are almost always given as rewards, taken from defeated enemies, or stolen from treasure vaults.

Witches & Warlords B/X clone?

Right now I am seriously considering making my own B/X clone. Does the world need another one? Of course not. But the amount of work is trivially small (I had the idea yesterday evening and it’s almost complete by now) and I am mostly interested in it for my own personal use. Since I am doing the work anyway and I got most of the ideas from other peoples B/X variants, why not put it all in order and make it available for free?


I am normally not a fan of D&D at all. I think AD&D is the most terribly designed and messily written RPG I’ve ever seen getting any widespread response, and while the d20 system of 3rd edition cleaned up the mess and straightened out the math, it actually made the rules even more needlessly complex and overdesigned. (Took me over 10 years as a GM to come to that realization, though.) But Basic really does have a very nice charm that just doesn’t stop calling to me. It’s very small, very simple, and mostly works very well, and it also has huge numbers of fans active in creating and sharing their own variants and content. There are only two things in B/X which I really don’t like, which are the mindbogglingly insane rules to calculate a hit and the magic system. Fixing attack rolls and Armor Class is easily done. (So easily I can’t understand why it took 25 years to chance it!), which leaves only the magic system.

Magic in D&D is a classic case of what I consider disassociated mechanics. Spell plots and spell preparation are game mechanics that exist only as mechanics without actually representing anything in the fictional world of the game. The books occasionally try to somehow come up with an explanation why it works that way in this specific kind of fantasy world, but it never really feels truly belivable to me. And it’s a major obstacle that keeps D&D from being a generic system for campaigns set in any average fantasy world. Being very pleased with the attempts done by Spears of the Dawn in this regard, I checked out Stars Without Number (a B/X sci-fi game), from which it takes most of its rules. It looks really great and with a few tweaks would be what I’d use to run Star Wars or Mass Effect, and it’s also free. The magic system of SWN is actually a completely different one and seems to be based on the psionics rules from the D&D 3rd edition Expanded Psionic Handbook, which is my favorite magic system ever written. But the XPH rules are a bit too complex compared to the simplicity of B/X games and what Crawford did to make it simpler seems really very good. Add to that a number of ideas from Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the bestiary from Basic Fantasy and there is already something really nice looking taking shape.

tumblr_n374rxTjKW1tx4l4ho1_1280The main goal is to provide a rules system that works well with the Ancient Lands setting I’ve been working on for a while. Which in turn is greatly inspired by the stories of Robert Howard and Fritz Leiber, but also Kane by Wagner and The Witcher by Sapkowski. With additional influences from Dark Sun, Skyrim, and Dragon Age II. (And Star Wars, because everything is better with Star Wars!) Barbarians of Lemuria would be a good game of choice and it is a very nice game. But I have to admit that I really have a great appreciation for class based systems. Leveling up by distributing advancement points after every adventure isn’t really my preference. Sorry, BoL. Yes, there are already OSR games based on Sword & Sorcery, like Crypts & Things and Astonishing Swordsment & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. But AS&SH is still based on AD&D and Crypts & Things seems to be unavailable, and they both cost money! It’s not that they are very expensive, but when we’re all putting together our own packages of house rules, you want to have a quick peek at what others are doing and nab a variant system or mechanic here or there. And I am not going around spending even just 10€ every two week to flip through a pdf in 20 minutes and decide that there isn’t anything interesting for me in it. That would add up very quickly. (And to be frank, while AS&SH is the tidiest version of AD&D I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t really make any changes to make it more of a Sword & Sorcery game.)

And so that’s why I am going to make my own B/X variant.

benderWith owlbears and spriggans!

War Cry of the Flame Princess: Poison

I retroactively added this post to the WCotFP series.

I am really not a fan of poison that instantly kills a character dead on a single failed saving throw, but I neither can say that I am very fond of the various mechanics from d20 games to deal with poison.

snakeAnd completely out of the blue I suddenly had this idea for how one could possible handle poison in OSR games (and probably a wide range of others as well). It’s so simple that I am most likely not the first to come up with it, but that actually makes it a good argument for and not against it.

When a creature gets hit by a poisonous attack, it needs to make a saving throw against poison or take X amount of damage. At the begining of its turn, a poisoned creature has to make another saving throw or take another X points of damage. Once it successfully makes a saving throw against the poison, it takes no damag and the poison ends.

The strength of the poison is entirely defined by the amount of damage it deals. The difficulty of the saving throw is always the same (no penalty to the saving throw against very strong poisons) and the duration of the poison is always as long as it takes to make a successful safe. So you only need to remember the amount of damage done by the poison and nothing else. You don’t even have to take count of how long the poison has already been acting. Poisons that deal higher amount of damage are more difficult to survive simply by the fact that you might run out of hit points before you even get the opportunity to make a third or fourth attempt at shaking it off. Even if you survive, a high damage poison still leaves you a lot more crippled than one that deals little damage. And if you’re already injured and unable to take much more punishment, even a relatively weak poison might still kill you.

Since saving throws against poison in B/X are usually save or die, the chance to succeed are pretty good, even for 1st level wizards. The chance that you take damage three or four times before making the save are very low at any level and at high level getting damaged even twice won’t be very common. So because of that, the amount of damage dealt by the poison has to be pretty high. I think a good rule of thumb might be that the poison should deal at least as much damage as the primary bit or claw attacks of the creature. In case of a small creature that relies primarily on its poison, it should be even considerably higher than that. I wouldn’t even bother with anything under 1d6. The highest number I use with my monsters is 3d6 for wyverns, and that’s because I am always very generous towards players when it comes to poison. If you want really nasty ones, you could easily go up to 4d8 and beyond.

Y’all got any more of these GMs?

Angry wrote another post about the constant apparent lack of gamemasters among RPG players. Being a regular GM myself that has never been a problem for me, but then I also always was the one who initiated the groups in the first place and got all the players together in the first place, pretty much proving his point: New players are overwhelmingly introduced to roleplaying games by existing players and only when a GM is already starting or running a group. If there will be any game at all really comes down to there already being a GM. Old players may ask a GM they know to start a new campaign, but usually it’s all happening on the GMs initative. No GM, no game. Simple as that.

No matter how much companies advertise their games, it doesn’t matter how many players they get excited, only how many GMs they can reach. And they can’t get any new players to start playing any RPGs. The only way to get more people to play is to get more people to become gamemasters. GMs can train other GMs in the basics, but that’s nothing that companies can influence.

Now the question Angry is putting out in the open is how we can get more people to become GMs. Because as he correctly notes, running games is not generally treated as something desireable. It’s not usually “Who wants to be a GM?” but “Who is willing to be a GM?” If you are not already totally excited about an idea you want to run, people become GMs for a campaign because everyone else “refuses” to, or feels “unable” to do it. And I think here is the key to the whole problem. Running a game is generally perceived as being difficult, tiresome, and all around undesirable. If anything is going to change, we need to make games that are easy to run. And looking at the big names in RPGs we got D&D, Pathfinder, Exalted, Shadowrun, World of Darkness, and Legend of the Five Rings. And from what I am able to tell these are all really a bitch to run. Among the most work intensive and complex systems that are out there. So no wonder nobody wants to be a GM. Even I don’t want to run these games and I already am a GM of 15 years. Now D&D 5th Edition made a few little steps into the right direction, but why are all the big games what could be called Hardcore or Expert-Level games. These are games for players and especially GMs who already are familiar with the whole thing. For new people they are almost inaccessible.

The one shining light I can think of are the various B/X clones, because Mentzer Basic and Expert are actually the only truly introductory game products I’ve ever seen. This is a game that is easy to learn in half an hour and also puts a very light workload on the GM, and it actually makes a real effort to tech the game to new GMs. Sandly, there are now dozens of them of which most people have never heard of because they are made often by just one or two people at home who don’t have any marketing and rely entirely on nostalgia from very old GMs and word of mouth. Little honorable mention here to Barbarians of Lemuria, which seems to have gained some real popularity while also being rules light and not a B/X clone. Doesn’t try to reach new players either, though.

Continue reading “Y’all got any more of these GMs?”

An adventure for any number of characters of any level

A few weeks ago I wrote a short post about the problems I have with published adventures. One of the pretty big problems that makes most adventures unusable to me is that they are not only written for a different game than the one I am running, but have also been designed for a group of player characters of a specific power level. While am talking a lot about published adventures here, the main point I want to make further down is really about designing adventures in general, so even if you don’t usually use published adventures either, this might still be interesting to read. The earliest adventures for Dungeons & Dragons were pretty vague on this subject, simply saying they are for adventurers of “1st to 3rd level” or characters should be “5th to 10th level”. Since at that time nobody had any pretense that character levels and monster experience were an exact science, it really was just very rough eyeballing. But soon it got more specific like “This module is designed for 6-8 characters of 4th to 7th level. […] The party should possess somewhere between 35 and 45 levels of experience.” Since experienced henchmen were a common feature of the game at that time, it really wasn’t any big deal to get a few more of them to make the party ready for adventure. I make no secret of the fact that I think AD&D was really terribly written and had really bad ways to deal with numbers. But while the 3rd edition did some good work in straitening up the rules (mostly fixing attack bonus, armor class, and XP tables), it also went of into a completely wrong direction with long steps. A derection into which I, being totally new to RPGs, happily followed.

Over time people realized that any claims that there was a balance between the classes and experience, treasure, and monster abilities were carefully calculated and weighted against each other was complete nonsense. It was still nothing but eyeballing and often pretty bad one. But you still got all this huge amount of additional math that didn’t actually make anything better! But the published adventures might be one element of the game that suffered the most. From now on published adventures would usually make a statement like this. “The Sunless Citadel is a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS adventure suitable for four 1st-level player characters. Player characters (PCs) who survive the entire adventure should advance through 2nd  level to 3rd level before the finale.”

Great. What if the characters are already 2nd level? What if I have another adventure I want to run that is for 2nd level characters? At these very low levels it’s not such a big deal yet, but when you get adventures that are for 10th level characters and take them to 14th level it does become a real issue. My campaigns are usually with new players and run for perhaps a year or so, so I usually ran games with characters that are all 1st or 2nd level. (It’s easier for new players.) Which means lots of great adventure I never got an opportunity to run. But it got worse. The way things were described in the rulebooks and the first adventures that were published for 3rd edition, players had the expectation that the encounters would be “balanced” and “suitable for their level”, which means they should win the fight without any big trouble. I did. I am guilty. I was young and stupid.

But of course, that idea is nonsense. While Gygax was pretty bad at explaining himself, he did understand that D&D was not just a game about individual fights, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about rationing your strength and resources. Part of that is judging when to let the warriors clear the room with their swords and when the wizards unleash their full awesome power against enemies the warriors can’t handle on their own. And when you put it this way, it is obvious that individual encounters should be highly imbalanced in either direction. Many fights should be pretty easy while some should be pretty hard, and the key to being a successful adventurer is being able to tell which type of fight you’re currently dealing with. If you rush in with full force, your resources will be quickly exhausted. And if you then get into a fight against a strong enemy, it could be your death. But if all fights are balanced to a level where the players will be able to win without great difficulty or great risk, what is there really to do for the players other than “I guess I attack it with my sword again” over and over and over. 3rd edition tried to “fix” this with lots of special attacks and feats. But that’s where everything started to go wrong. They tried to make the round by round attack and damage routine more entertaining, but that part was never meant to be center of the game. It really was about judging the strength of your enemies, using the environment to your advantage, and making calls which fights to pick and which ones to avoid. The notion that fights should be balanced according to a mathmatical calculation killed all that. The Sunless Citadel did include a fight that would be really difficult to win and force players to retreat and come up with outside the box solutions or avoid that particular monster entirely. But as the story is being told, people complained about the encounter being unbalanced and that practice was discontinued from there on. Paizo eventually became not only the biggest creator of published adventures but actually the biggest RPG company of all. (Seems like WotC has left the field.) But even though there’s lots of great stories, I only really ran three of their adventures. Flight of the Red Raven and Escape from Meenlock Prison and The Automatic Hound from the Dungeon magazine. All three of which I completely rewrote to fit the size and level of the party I was running them for.

Continue reading “An adventure for any number of characters of any level”

Is Dungeons & Dragons over?

Based on everything I’ve seeing and hearing about it, the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons last year appears to have been a huge and total success. Lots of people really love the game and it appears to sell very well. I’ve seen mention that the Player’s Handbook had been on the number one spot for best selling books on, and store owners and employees talking about it on rpg forums very consistently say it is selling well.

When the signs were piling up that WotC would end the 4th edition after a relatively short run, I made the prediction that they would be announcing a 5th edition pretty soon (which they did) and that it would be their last chance to revitalize the game. 4th edition was very unpopular with many old fans (though it is a decent game in its own right from what I hear, just not very much in the long tradition of D&D) and when they prepare to abandon ship after just 3 years, you just can’t get around the perception that the game was a failure. With 5th edition they had (have?) the chance to try to get the brand back into the tradition and style that people think of when they hear about D&D. But if that edition also stumbled and didn’t work out as intended, there wouldn’t be any real chance to fix its damaged reputation. Trying to fix things with a 6th edition wouldn’t be really an option, because who would buy a (pretty expensive) game that gets completely new rules every three or four years?

But they were lucky and the game actually was very well received. Disaster averted, brand saved! But everything that has happened since the release of the three rulebooks has been very puzzling to me. Because based on everything I hear and read, the people who are handling the D&D brand don’t really seem to be interested in the roleplaying game. The focus seems to be on licensed novels and videogames, as well as board games and other stuff. But as far as I am able to tell, there are the tree rulebooks and that is it. Everything else there is for Dungeons & Dragons are adventurers, which they want to tie in with the planned novels and videogames. I think because D&D has been a roleplaying game for 40 years and you can not have a D&D brand without it including a roleplaying game. But this game, as well done as it is, really seems like an attempt to do the absolute barest of minimum to convince people “D&D is still a roleplaying game”. They also really seem to have no idea what to do with it.

A few days ago I found this interview, which really is just painful to read. It really sounds to me like that poor guy is trying his best to make it sound somewhat positive when he is still saying “we don’t know yet”, “probably not”, and “we won’t do that anymore”. As I see it, it’s over. There won’t be any Dungeons & Dragons as most people know it for a very long time. Possibly forever. This is it. There won’t be more than perhaps one or two additional books that are not adventures. I highly doubt we’ll see campaign settings as in 4th edition, which consist of just two books, and certainly nothing like in 3rd and 2nd edition, where settings got a dozen or two of books dedicated to them. Maaaybe a Monster Manual 2 one day, but again nothing like the amount of monster books there have been for the previous editions. It’s not as if there wasn’t any demand for them, but really that WotC isn’t in any way interested in making a successful roleplaying game anymore. The four people who are working on D&D might, but that’s not their choice to make.

So yeah, I think this was it. I wonder what Pathfinders plans are for the future. I think there’s a big untapped market opening up right now.