“Control Panel” Page Layout in the OSR

More and more books in the OSR have been making layout and information design a priority, in particular the “control panel” format that puts all of the relevant information from a single topic on a single page (or two page spread). It’s a term I first used on my video review of B/X essentials, but it seems to have hit a chord. Visuals often take priority, with flowcharts and diagrams replacing traditional text, in order to facilitate faster absorption of the information. I’ve put a bunch of examples below.

It got me wondering whether you could make an entire RPG in the form of cardstock handouts, somewhere between A4 and A5 sized. Player wants to play a wizard? Hand him the card with the magic rules and the card with the spell list. Going exploring on hex C12? The DM pulls out the card for that hex and places it behind the screen. Going shopping and need to see what goods are available at a high-end potion shop? Pull out that card and put it in the middle of the table.damagetable_design Dg32VG0U8AAXuhO flowchart_design strikepoints


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OSR Guide for the Perplexed – Questing Beast edition

There’s a questionnaire going around the blogosphere. In an attempt to get this blog going again, here’s my take:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:

Goblin Punch’s essay on OSR-style challenges was the thing that really solidified in my mind what it was that I loved about OSR games.

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:

3. Best OSR module/supplement:

Probably the Hot Springs Island books. They aren’t perfect, but they take so many advances that the OSR has made over the last decade and wrap it all up in one place.

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):

The one that I’ve used the most is probably Shields Shall Be Splintered.

5. How I found out about the OSR:

I don’t remember. I most likely stumbled onto blogs like Last Gasp, PDnDwPS, and Jeff’s Game Blog while looking for ways to reinvigorate my RPG games.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:

The links to wisdom, hands down.

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:

Google Plus, for now.

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:

Twitter, Reddit, YouTube.

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:

The most important attributes of a GM are speed, impartiality, and decisiveness.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:

The one I probably had the most fun with was the Faserip Marvel system.

11. Why I like OSR stuff:

I like having my problem solving skills challenges while in weird and unpredictable situations. I’m also a sucker for great worldbuilding, and no one does that better than the OSR.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:

Troika! is a planescapesque fever dream of wonderfully flavorful classes and a distinctly British sense of humor. A Thousand Thousand Islands has some of the best writing and art I’ve ever seen in an RPG product, and details a super-refreshing non-western setting.

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:

I’m going to say Last Gasp Grimoire, but I try to never miss a post from Necropraxis, Goblin Punch, False Machine, and Cave Girl’s Game Stuff.

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:

Maze Rats, currently game of the month on Reddit. You get a complete OSR game and toolkit in a single pamphlet you can print out at home. I needed a game I could hand out to my 5th grade players, so I made it.

15. I’m currently running/playing:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings using Knave.

16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:

What’s there to care about?

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:


Knave 1.0 is here!

Knave 1.0 Itch cover

The finished version of Knave has finally arrived! 

Features include:

High compatibility with OSR games. If you have a library of OSR bestiaries, adventure and spell books, little or no conversion is needed to use them with Knave.

Fast to teach, easy to run. If you are introducing a group of new players to OSR games, Knave allows them to make characters and understand all the rules in minutes.

No classes. Every PC is a Knave, a tomb-raiding, adventure-seeking ne’er-do-well who wields a spell book just as easily as a blade. This is an ideal system for players who like to switch up their character’s focus from time to time and don’t like being pigeonholed. A PC’s role in the party is determined largely by the equipment they carry.

Abilities are king. All d20 rolls use the six standard abilities. The way that ability scores and bonuses work has also been cleaned up, rationalized, and made consistent with how other systems like armor work.

Optional player-facing rolls. Knave easily accommodates referees who want the players to do all the rolling. Switching between the traditional shared-rolling model and players-only rolling can be done effortlessly on the fly.

Copper standard. Knave assumes that the common unit of currency is the copper penny. All item prices use this denomination and approximate actual medieval prices.

A list of 100 level-less spells.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License: You are free to share and adapt this material for any purpose, including commercially, as long as you give attribution.

Designer commentary. The rules include designer comments explaining why rules were written the way they were, to aid in hacking the game.

Source text. When you purchase this game, you also get a copy of the Word document I used to make it. Edit it to create your own custom Knave ruleset! (You will need the free fonts Crimson Text and Sebaldus-Gotisch to display it properly).

Reformatting The Halls Untoward

Michael Prescott, 2-page dungeon-maker extraordinaire, put out a crowd-sourced dungeon recently called the Halls Untoward. It’s pay-what-you-want on Drive Thru RPG and it’s really good, especially his fantastic illustrations. I’m planning on running it for my 5th-graders, so as usual I’m doing some reformatting. I’ve taken the minimaps of each part of the dungeon, cut them out, stuck them in the middle of a letter-sized page, and then cut out each room description and pasted them right next to each room. The original book is already pretty easy to use thanks to the minimaps, but the larger real estate of a letter page allows for zero information loss while eliminating page flipping and allowing for immediate visualization of each room’s layout and surroundings. Check it out.



I’ve been running Maze Rats at my 5th grade after-school club for a while now, but the main problem is that it’s not very compatible with OSR monsters, spells, and mechanics in general. So what I’m looking at now is a way to make something as fast, simple and intuitive as Maze Rats that will work pretty seamlessly with my gaming bookshelf. I’m calling it Knave until I think of something better.

The first problem: how to make it classless? It needs to be classless because I don’t have time to teach each kid how a different class works every week. Things need to be as obvious as possible. My solution right now is to tie everything into encumbrance slots. You have as many slots as you have Strength, but everything that might make you more martial or more arcane are just items. (All classes lie on the martial/arcane spectrum, and don’t tell me I’ve forgotten rogues, all adventurers are rogues).

Art by Stepan Alekseev

So if you want to be more of a fighter, you pick up more fighty things: better armor and weapons. Armor runs from AC 12 to 16, and takes up 1-5 encumbrance slots. Shields and helmets (+1 AC each) also take up a slot. Weapons deal d6, d8 or d10 damage and take up 1, 2 or 3 slots. So a fighter that’s really decked out for war can easily fill 8-12 slots, especially if they’re hauling around a few spare weapons.

I’ve solved the wizard problem by just making encumbrance slots the same thing as spell slots. Each spell is now a spell book that can be cast once per day, and which takes up 1 encumbrance slot. PCs can only cast spells of their level or lower (it’s always bugged the hell out of me how these don’t align in normal D&D), and PC level only goes up to 10. You never get new spell books as a result of leveling up; you have to find them like any other item, and the high level ones are incredibly rare. PCs are flatly incapable of creating or copying the spells in spell books. It’s a lost art. This way magic users have to claw their way to every scrap of magic they have, be constantly on the lookout for people trying to steal their grimoires, and have to wade into battle flipping through the mobile library they have hanging off them.

An early draft of Knave is out now for my supporters over on Patreon.

Partial Success in Roll-Under d20 systems

I really enjoy the way that partial successes in Apocalypse World games continually complicate the fiction. Actions scenes get richer and more interesting as problems mount; the tension builds, and players feel like there’s more thing to react to. However, I’m not a fan of the “moves” system, so I’ve been thinking of ways to port partial successes over to more trad roll-under d20 games, like Whitehack, Symbaroum, or The Black Hack.


A common way to do this is just to say that missing by say 1-3 is a partial failure, while hitting by only 1-3 is a partial success, or something like that. The trouble is that you can end up with some odd quirks, such as a the fact that if you have an ability of 10, it’s more likely to get a full success or failure than it is to get partial ones. The way I see it, characters with average stats should be getting partial results much more often than either of the extremes, similar to Apocalypse World.

Here’s my solution: when making a test in a roll under-system, roll two dice instead of one.

  • If 0 dice pass, the result is a full failure.
  • If 1 die passes, the result is a partial success.
  • If 2 dice pass, the result is a full success.

Here is what the probabilities of this system look like. The sweet spot is from 5-15, as you would expect. What’s interesting is comparing this to the probabilities for Apocalypse World. A 15 looks a lot like a +3, a 13 looks like a +2, and a 11 looks like a +1.

If you wanted more degrees of success than apocalypse world, you just add more dice. Here’s a system with 4 degrees of success: full fail, partial fail, partial success, and full success. With 4 degrees of success, the odds of a full success or failure goes down significantly, so you will be dealing with a lot of partial results. However, the split between bad results and good results will be symmetrical, as opposed to the 3-degrees system, where two out of three results allow the PC some degree of success. I suspect 4 degrees would work better for more realistic games, while 3 degrees would be better for more heroic games.

If you were using Whitehack or The Black Hack, you could still keep advantage and disadvantage by rolling an extra die and dropping the highest or lowest, respectively. Or you could just give players mods to their stat, which might be easier.

I’m planning on using a system like this for the project I’m working on now, The Wormwood Throne(or The Wormwood Crown…I haven’t decided) which will be more robust and detailed than Maze Rats, but the principle is applicable to lots of games.

Where’s Waldo books as Die Drop Table Compendiums

If you need quick ideas for random NPCs and encounters, just open to the relevant page of a Where’s Waldo book and throw some d6s at it. Make the die result how favorable the encounter is to you. Martin Handford’s done all your work for you.

For example: Town Encounters


Western Encounters


Musketeer encounters:


Tavern encounters:


Random treasures


Random banners:


And so on and so on. Almost every page of those books are useful for ideas. Even anachronistic ones can be easily re-themed into some thing suitable.

And for more random tables than you can shake a goblin’s dismembered leg at, download Maze Rats and never run out of ideas again.

You want cities? I got your cities.

I just found the Paper Towns subreddit, which I’m convinced is one of the best RPG resources I’ve ever seen. It contains hundreds of high-quality paintings and drawings of ancient and medieval cities – just print them out and write a key over them or a random table, and you’ve got yourself multiple sessions of content. Players think completely differently when they can actually see the layout of their surroundings and can plan accordingly. Here’s a few of my favorite maps below.


Great little port town. The details in the whole harbor/fort complex look especially interesting.


The elevation in this one is great, as are all the ways around the rooftops and the twisting roads.


Diocletian’s palace is basically begging to get robbed by some murderhoboes in the dead of night.


I love how concrete and specific this one is. You get encounter hook ideas just looking closely at it.

Maze Rats is now available!

My endlessly-revised RPG is complete, and live on DriveThruRPG! Go there to download it now!

Maze Rats is a RPG and sandbox toolkit for old-school-style adventuring. It contains a single, compact page of rules, a one-page character creation guide, a hand-drawn character sheet, and eight pages of 66-item random tables, rollable with 2d6. Each page contains 9-12 tables, covering everything from spell and monster generation, through NPCs, treasures, cities, wildernesses, and dungeons. If you run (or have always wanted to run) open sandbox adventures, Maze Rats offers everything you need in a compact, easily-referenced format. Also included is two pages of advice for preparing and running open-world games in the OSR style.

The game system itself is 2d6 based. Character are extremely quick to generate, making it great for convention games, one-shots, or introducing new players. The game is highly lethal, and assumes a style of play where caution is essential to long-term survival. It is technically classless, but the leveling options allow players to specialize in fighting, thievery or wizardry or some mixture of the three. Magic is simple and chaotic, with new randomly-generated spells filling the magic-user’s head each night. Everything about the game is designed to be as clean, fast, and intuitive as possible, while driving players towards creative solutions rather than brute force (though brute force is always an option).